State Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco addresses the State Senate. (Photo/California State Senate Democratic Caucus)
State Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco addresses the State Senate. (Photo/California State Senate Democratic Caucus)

Bill backed by Wiener and Jewish groups would give caseworkers extra time to help refugees

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Across the Bay Area, case managers at Jewish organizations operate under a ticking clock to help hundreds of Afghan and Ukrainian refugees find permanent housing, jobs and resources within 90 days.

A new bill to extend that case-management support for up to 180 days was introduced Jan. 17 by state Sen. Scott Wiener, the newly elected co-chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus.

Under federal law, refugees and asylum seekers are entitled to three months of case management, through the Enhanced Services for Asylees and Vulnerable Noncitizens program. Wiener’s Senate Bill 85 seeks to double that period in California to 180 days, or six months, and in extreme circumstances, it would allow for the provision of a second extension of another 180 days.

“We have a moral obligation to shelter those fleeing conflict in faraway places,” said Wiener, a Democrat who represents a district encompassing San Francisco and parts of San Mateo County.

In a statement to J., Wiener said Afghan and Ukrainian refugees are not getting the help they need to integrate smoothly into California communities.

“This bill will help them access the health care, jobs and housing they need to build successful new lives here, and I am honored to introduce it as co-chair of the Jewish Legislative Caucus, where welcoming the stranger will always be a core priority,” he wrote.

We have a moral obligation to shelter those fleeing conflict in faraway places.

The bill is co-authored by four other Democrats. Fellow Jewish caucus and Assembly member Marc Berman, whose district covers the Peninsula, is joined by Assembly members Corey Jackson and Lena Gonzalez and Sen. Tom Umberg, all from Southern California.

Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley and Jewish Family and Community Services East Bay are at the forefront of the resettlement efforts.

At JFS, case managers expect to resettle at least 550 refugees this year, a dramatic increase from the average of 150 they were processing prior to the Afghan crisis and the Russia-Ukraine war.

“It is unrealistic to expect that a resettlement agency can find permanent housing and jobs in just 90 days,” Susan Frazer, the new CEO of JFS Silicon Valley, said in a statement to J. “The extension to 180 days would allow us to better address and provide more support for the complexity of needs faced by refugees and newcomers. We want to ensure that refugees can successfully rebuild their lives and thrive in their new home country.”

Many refugees not only face challenges securing jobs and housing in their three-month allotment with a case manager, but it also takes time to get work authorizations and permits, said Debbie Michels, the manager of public relations at JFS Silicon Valley.

Afghan family walks in airport
A family evacuated from Afghanistan is led through the arrival terminal at Dulles International Airport in the Washington area to board a bus that will take them to a refugee processing center, Aug. 25, 2021. (Photo/JTA-Anna Moneymaker-Getty Images)

The extra 90 days would give the agency’s volunteer housing committee more time to get things done — such as going around various South Bay neighborhoods trying to find housing for refugees, largely by educating prospective landlords.

“We’ve got volunteers knocking on doors and sharing the stories and saying, ‘Please take a risk on these people. Help them start their lives,” Michels said. “And it’s a lot of work.”

By doubling a difficult 90-day deadline, the extra 90 days also would serve to reduce the anxiety and fear that asylum seekers experience when they begin the process of resettlement.

SB 85 is sponsored by the L.A.-based Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, the California Welcomes Coalition, the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California (JPAC) and HIAS, which was founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Robin Mencher
Robin Mencher

Robin Mencher, the CEO of JFCS/East Bay, said in a statement sent to J. that the agency, an affiliate of HIAS and a member of JPAC, is “thrilled that our legislators are considering [SB 85].”

She added: “Afghans and Ukrainians faced life-threatening situations that caused them to flee their homes. In our work, we’ve seen that many of these families require trauma-informed care and extended services for a successful resettlement process and life stability.”

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Emma Goss.(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Emma Goss

Emma Goss is a J. staff writer. She is a Bay Area native and an alum of Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School and Kehillah Jewish High School. Emma also reports for NBC Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss.