Amid nationwide legal battles over the president’s temporary refugee ban, California lawmakers are taking steps to make their state more welcoming to people fleeing war, persecution or disasters in their home countries.
Assembly Democrats announced bills this week to grant refugees in-state tuition at public colleges and provide money to school districts with large child refugee populations. The bills would also give refugees with Special Immigrant Visas who served the U.S. Armed Forces or State Department in Iraq or Afghanistan priority enrollment in public colleges and help them apply foreign work experience toward a professional license.
“These SIV individuals pretty much are veterans,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento. “They served alongside our vets on the front line and so we want to honor and recognize their service.”
‘Open our arms’
The announcement comes as the federal government is fighting in court to reinstate a temporary suspension of the country’s refugee program and a 90-day travel ban on residents of seven Muslim-majority countries.
“We’re not taking part in this fear mongering and this hatred, and in fact we’re going to do the opposite,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego. “We’re going to open our arms. We’re going to continue to find ways to support them and say, ‘You are welcome.'”
The plan would also provide $5 million dollars to school districts with large child refugee populations. Cost estimates of the other proposals are not yet available.
McCarty said he does not expect the cost of providing in-state tuition to refugees to be “insurmountable,” particularly because refugees already become eligible for in-state tuition after living in the state for a year. He said he expects the bill would apply mostly to community colleges.
California took in nearly 8,000 refugees last year, McCarty said.
Case in point
President Donald Trump signed the executive order on immigration and refugees Jan. 27. A week later, a federal judge in Seattle ordered a halt to enforcement of the ban, which the federal government is appealing. That filing is currently playing out in a San Francisco federal appeals court.
A refugee himself, Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Los Angeles, immigrated to the U.S. from Iran as a child.
“That’s who we’re closing our doors on right now,” Nazarian said. “I’m not going to stand for that, and I’m glad to see that my colleagues also will not stand for that.”