Sen. Gonzalez Introduces Bill to Establish the California Immigrant and Refugee Affairs Agency

February 16, 2021

Sacramento, Calif. – Today, Senator Lena A. Gonzalez (D- Long Beach) introduced SB 452 to establish the California Immigrant and Refugee Affairs Agency. The agency would help streamline immigrant and refugee programs ran by state and local offices that offer services such as educational opportunities, legal services, job training, and placement assistance. With more than 11 million immigrants and refugees comprising nearly one quarter of the state’s population and 34% of the labor force, the new agency would be a critical asset in supporting many people who are highly underserved and disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and who, nonetheless, significantly contribute to economic growth, business, and innovation in California.

The bill succeeds a series of recent federal actions aimed at reshaping immigration policy to improve system efficiency and restore opportunities for immigrant families and workers.

“All immigrant families and workers deserve safe, efficient and comprehensive assistance through the COVID-19 pandemic and in the future,” said Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach). “While there are many local programs doing great work to serve immigrants throughout the state, there needs to be a centralized mechanism to help us meet the needs of the large immigrant and refugee population in our state. We also need to be ready to move forward effectively as new federal policies and programs are enacted, and I know that establishing this new agency in our state will give us the tools we will need to ensure we develop, implement and evaluate operations in the best interest of immigrant people”.

Nearly half of the nation’s immigrants live in just three states, California, Texas, and Florida, making the Golden State the first among all three to establish an immigrant and refugee affairs agency.

“The past four years have set us back far enough. We need to make sure now that we make real progress toward reform that will benefit immigrant individuals,” said Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach). “We have the largest immigrant population in the nation and millions of them are essential and farm workers who have helped us get through the challenges of this pandemic. Making sure we can provide them with all available resources quickly and sufficiently is the least we can do”.

Senator Gonzalez’s district encompasses parts of the Southeast Los Angeles County with a large Latinx, low-income population that has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, experiencing disproportionately high death rates and case positivity rates.

“My community has already suffered immensely ,” said Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach). “Deaths amongst our Latinx community have been terrifyingly high. They have higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 due to living in multi-generational shared residences or being employed as essential workers. Many of them are low-income Latinx immigrant families that in addition to those challenges, also face language barriers, do not qualify for unemployment or healthcare benefits, and many times abstain from using existing immigrant resources due to fears of deportation. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that we create an organized hub of information and resources to streamline services for all our immigrant communities. This benefits our economy and it benefits everyone.”

Advocates elevate the importance of SB 452 in meeting the unique needs of all immigrants in California.

"Prior to the pandemic, we recognized the importance of the labor of immigrants, during the pandemic their labor is deemed essential, yet the state does not have a holistic approach to meet the unique challenges immigrants are facing during this pandemic nor a long-term vision to integrate them,” said Angelica Salas, Executive Director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA). “Approximately seventy percent of immigrants have resided in the Golden State for at least 10 years and contribute to the state coffers every year. It is time that the state creates the California Immigrant and Refugee Affairs Agency to recognize their contributions, challenges, and create paths for integration."

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Senator Gonzalez represents the 33rd Senate District, which includes the City of Long Beach and portions of South Los Angeles and South East Los Angeles including the cities of Bell, Bell Gardens, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Lakewood, Lynwood, Maywood, Paramount, Signal Hill, and South Gate. Senator Gonzalez lives in Long Beach with her husband Adam and three sons.

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) was founded in 1986. CHIRLA is a California leader with national impact made of diverse immigrant families and individuals who act as agents of social change to achieve a world with freedom of mobility, full human rights, and true participatory democracy. CHIRLA’s mission is to achieve a just society fully inclusive of immigrants.