SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – The California State Assembly rolled out the welcome mat for refugees Monday by passing two bills that make up the “California Welcomes Refugees” package.
Under the bills, certain refugees in the state will receive resident tuition rates at University of California, California State or Central California Conference schools and will be fast-tracked for hiring by the state.
Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, introduced the bill.
“California will lead by facts, not fear,” McCarty said in a statement. “The fact is that successfully integrating refugee communities will make California’s economy stronger and our communities safer. I am proud to author this important legislative package and will continue to stand with refugees as they work to achieve the American dream.”
The Assembly voted 55-0 in favor of AB 343, which will allow refugees to pay in-state tuition rates immediately upon entering California. Assemblymembers Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, and Adrin Nazarian, D-Sherman Oaks, co-authored the bill.
AB 349, which will allow some refugees to be placed in the top ranks for employment opportunities after passing a state entrance exam, faced a more contentious vote, passing 41-28. The bill gives these refugees the same hiring preference afforded to veterans, as well as their widows, widowers and spouses.
Both measures directly assist a small but significant pool of refugee immigrants – holders of Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), which are reserved for refugees who assisted the U.S. State Department or U.S. military in conflict areas overseas.
According to the Assembly analysis, between 2011 and March 2017, the U.S. granted about 37,000 SIVs. Of these, 15,000 were principles, and the rest were spouses and dependents. About 9,200 SIV holders have settled in California.
McCarty, as chair of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance, has also requested a one-time, $5-million budget request to bolster education grants for communities with large refugee populations. The money would go toward hiring translators, counselors and support staff to aid in integration.
The final piece of the “California Welcomes Refugees” package is HR 23, which would dedicate June 20 as World Refugee Day. The Assembly has not yet voted on the resolution.