Capitol Alert

California bills would provide lower college tuition, workforce help to refugees

As the nation awaits a court ruling on President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily barring refugees from entering the United States, California lawmakers had a different message Wednesday: You are welcome here.

A trio of Assembly Democrats – Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego and Adrin Nazarian of Los Angeles – announced legislation that aims to ease the arrival and assimilation of refugees in this state, which has resettled more than 100,000 people over the past 15 years.

“We stand here today with one clear voice and one clear message: We want to welcome refugees,” McCarty said.

The package of bills focuses on helping refugees enter school and the workforce more quickly.

Assembly Bill 343 would immediately grant in-state tuition rates to refugees who want to enroll at California’s public colleges and universities, rather than forcing them to wait a year to establish residency. It would also qualify refugees who worked as interpreters for U.S. armed forces overseas for the same counseling services and priority enrollment that veterans receive.

Assembly Bill 349 would instruct state regulators to assist interpreter refugees with relevant work experience from abroad to apply for professional licenses that allow them to practice in California.

McCarty said he would also make a one-time budget request of $5 million to fund grants for school districts with high refugee populations to hire more translators and provide cultural training for students and their families.

“What is going on at the national level has been extremely confusing and terrifying for them,” Gonzalez said. “I’m excited that we’ll be able to say, in California here, we’re going to go the extra step … and ensure that they know that they are as much a fabric of our community as anyone else.”

Facing danger to his life and family for his service as an U.S. Army interpreter in Afghanistan, Hamidulla Hamidy resettled in Sacramento in 2014. Unable to find a job, he said, he wanted to take classes at a local community college to improve his English, but could not afford the fees and did not yet qualify for financial aid.

Hamidy is now enrolled at American River College and hopes to eventually become an information technology specialist. He said the in-state tuition bill could have helped him get his education started sooner.

“I’m really proud to be one of the members of the United States,” Hamidy said, “and I would like to study more to serve this country, because this country helped me, so it’s my right to serve this country.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff