San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said 2020 will be the year he will bring his proposal to create an immigrant affairs office at the county before the board.

Fletcher initially put forth the idea during his 2018 campaign for county supervisor.

At that time, San Diego was grappling with the fallout from Trump administration policies like family separations at the border and decreased funding for refugee services. Local advocates had criticized the county for not including an Office of Immigrant and Refugee Services in its budget.

Roughly a quarter of the county’s population is made up of immigrants, and San Diego is home to one of the largest refugee resettlement communities in the country.

In August 2018, Fletcher announced that if elected, he would launch a County Center for New San Diegans to support immigrants and refugees in the county. The plan was somewhat inspired by Los Angeles’ County Office of Immigrant Affairs.

His initial proposal envisioned a county office that helps immigrants and their family access local government services, such as enrolling kids in schools, starting small businesses, obtaining driver’s licenses and going through the naturalization process. It would also provide education on immigrants’ rights and partner with nonprofit service providers to do outreach and provide services.

“I’m fully committed to bringing that forward,” Fletcher said. “The reality is, this year when we took office, we had the immediacy of the migrant family crisis and it overwhelmed what we were able to pull together in our first year.”

The crisis was spurred by a change in ICE policy that resulted in thousands of asylum-seeking families being released into San Diego without any support or resources.

Fletcher, alongside Supervisor Greg Cox and state legislators and other officials, worked to secure funds from FEMA and the state to assist service providers in sheltering and supporting the migrants. The county also helped secure a year-long lease for a new shelter.

Although Fletcher hasn’t made the office happen, he’s been heavily involved in matters involving immigration.

In addition to his role in obtaining support for the shelter, and immigration-related funding for the public defender’s office, the board recently approved Fletcher’s proposal to have the county’s chief administrative officer come up with a plan to expand a County Vet Connect station with a secure internet connection in Tijuana, at the Deported Veterans Support House. Deported veterans can technically still receive veterans benefits, but all the service officers, through which they would reach them are in the United States. These connect stations already exist in the unincorporated areas of the county to digitally connect veterans to service officers. Fletcher’s proposal seeks to expand that digital connection to deported veterans who cannot enter the United States.

Fletcher said he plans to begin taking steps to create the new office in 2020. He said he realized he wouldn’t be able to do it by working it into the latest county budget. His office did manage to secure $200,000 for the county’s Public Defender’s office to provide immigration counsel, though.

In order to create the new office, Fletcher said he must first bring a letter to the board asking to create it. If the letter garners the three votes necessary, the County’s Chief Administrative Office would then develop a more specific proposal for the office and bring it back to the board for consideration, which would likely require a second vote.

Fletcher said his office is still sorting out specifics of what the office would do, how it would work with the existing County Office of Refugee Coordination, a department within the Health and Human Services Agency that acts as a sort of liaison between the county and state and local refugee communities.

He’s pushing for more funding for the Office of Refugee Coordination and at the moment is envisioning that the office could be a physical space where services for immigrants and refugees could be co-located. The Office of Refugee Coordination could have a space there, as well as an office for immigrant services. The immigration legal services that the public defender’s office will now offer could be provided there, as well as services for deported veterans and even space for nonprofit service providers who work with immigrant communities.

Maybe the San Diego Rapid Response Network shelter and the city of San Diego’s new manager of immigrant affairs could be located in the same place, he said.

“I’m just envisioning one place that’s safe and culturally competent,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher said he’s not ready to estimate what the proposal would cost.

A 2019 budget proposal from the Center for Policy Initiatives, a local nonprofit research and advocacy group, that included the creation of an immigrant affairs office estimated it would cost $500,000. Other related services, like the migrant shelter, medical services for asylum-seekers and refugees, and a universal representation program for individuals facing deportation, would cost an additional $12.4 million, according to the proposal.

But Fletcher said he’s not sure whether the proposal will pass. While he’s managed to score some wins on immigrant-related issues, he remains the only Democrat on a board that continues to support the Trump administration’s legal challenges to SB 54, the so-called “sanctuary state” law.

In addition to the immigrant affairs office proposal, Fletcher said he plans to work on other initiatives involving immigrant communities in 2020. Ensuring the migrant shelter has a location and funding will continue to be a priority. He’d also like to dig into how the Sheriff’s Department interacts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol.

Finally, Fletcher said he was going to be focusing a lot on getting an accurate census count in 2020, which will involve ensuring that immigrant communities are fully counted. The county will be detailing how it will be involved census counts and outreach. It will be the first time the county is actively involved in such an effort.

“There is tremendous distrust between the Trump administration and immigrant communities,” Fletcher said. “San Diego is at risk of losing billions in funding if we don’t get an accurate count.”

Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

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