Local Government

Orange County to Launch Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs

Orange County is taking steps to help local immigrants and refugees access government resources and services.  

On Tuesday, April 25, the Orange County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a plan by Supervisor Doug Chaffee and Vice Chairman Andrew Do to establish an Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) in Orange County.  

“In Orange County, we value and welcome the immigrant and refugee community that come and resettle in Orange County with their families,” said Doug Supervisor Chaffee, Fourth District. “The OIRA will support immigrants and refugees by serving as a hub for resources, a place they feel safe and welcome, and most importantly, a one-stop office where they can learn about resources available in Orange County and in their own language. In the event that the OIRA is not able to assist them, connect them with community partners and organizations that may be able to.”  

The OIRA will serve as a central hub for coordinating service, resources, and advocacy efforts to support Orange County’s immigrant and refugee populations in accordance with the requirements of state and federal law. The goal of the new County office is to help immigrants and refugees gain stability, become self-sufficient, and financially prosper.  

“My family and I came to this country as refugees,” said Vice Chairman Andrew Do, First District. “We know what it means – the struggles and hardships – to start your life over in a completely new place.”  

He added, “This new Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs in Orange County will support incoming immigrants and refugees accessing existing services as they build a new home in Orange County.” 

On August 2021, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution by Vice Chairman Do and Supervisor Chaffee, urging the U.S. Congress and President Biden to act swiftly to create an orderly process to admit Afghan refugees after the Unites States removed U.S. troops in Afghanistan and establish opportunities for resettlement under a 3-step plan. 

Immediately thereafter, the County mobilized an interdepartmental team made up of the County Executive Office, Social Services Agency, and the Health Care Agency to assist local resettlement agencies in their efforts to connect Afghan refugees seeking refuge in Orange County to programs and services. According to the Social Services Agency, 76,000 Afghan refugees arrived in the United States that summer, and over 500 settled in Orange County. As of June 2022, the County completed its efforts in assisting Afghan refugees while continuing to assist with any new requests.  

“The creation of this office is overdue,” said Supervisor Chaffee. “We’ve done a pretty good job with the different waves of immigrants and refugees that have come into the county, but now we want a hub. County government will now partner with community partners and organizations to continue assisting these communities.” 

For the first 90 days after a refugee’s arrival, their assigned resettlement agency will guide them through the necessary steps, including a health assessment, short-term housing, and how to apply for eligible State and Federal benefits. The goal of the OIRA is to work with the resettlement agency on a transition plan for when the 90 days end by continuing to assist immigrants and refugees with services such as case management and connections to resources. Clients who are equipped with the correct tools are more likely to become self-sufficient and can better support themselves and their families. 

“As a former Vietnamese refugee, I know what it means to flee a violent and oppressive regime,” said Vice Chairman Do. “Through the OIRA, we want to assist new immigrants assimilate into American life. Their success in the U.S. is the fuel in the fight for democracy, basic human dignity, and human rights around the world.”    

Community organizations such as CAIR-LA, CHIRLA, and the Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California have already started collaborating on ways to improve services for immigrants and refugees and make the OIRA a one-stop hub. The first office will be located in the County Community Service Center (CCSC) in Westminster. 

Orange County Supervisor Doug Chaffee represents the Fourth District, which includes the Cities of Brea, Buena Park, Fullerton, La Habra, Placentia, Stanton, portions of Anaheim, and unincorporated communities.  

Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do represents the First District, which includes the cities of Cypress, Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Los Alamitos, La Palma, Seal Beach, Westminster, and the Unincorporated Communities of Midway City and Rossmoor.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION According to the Agenda Staff Report, April 25, 2023: The withdrawal of the United States military from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021 resulted in 76,000 Afghan refugees arriving in the United States, many of them families with young children. Of those 76,000 refugees, 500 refugees arrived in Orange County. Though Orange County is no stranger to refugees, the county has not experienced an influx of refugees at this rate for several decades.

When the Afghan refugees arrived in Orange County in 2021, the support infrastructure for refugee resettlement had decreased significantly from 46 years ago when the Vietnam War refugees arrived in the county. The needs of refugees, however, remain the same – housing, legal advice, social services support, health care, education, and employment.

Immediately, the County of Orange (County) mobilized an interdepartmental team consisting of the County Executive Office (CEO), Social Services Agency (SSA), and Health Care Agency (HCA) to assist local resettlement agencies in their efforts to provide services to the Afghan refugees seeking refuge in Orange County.

On August 24, 2021, the Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted a resolution approving the “3 Step Plan for the Resettlement of Afghan Refugees.” Collectively, this interdepartmental team assisted the Afghan refugees with applying for and obtaining social services benefits, enrolling children in school, accessing healthcare, and identifying opportunities for employment. The County’s effort contributed significantly to the resettlement agencies’ ability to expeditiously resettle these refugees.

The County completed its effort to assist the Afghan refugees in June 2022. However, the County continues to receive requests to assist new refugees arriving in Orange County. Furthermore, the Migration Policy Institute reported in 2021 that California’s immigrant population had increased 17.9 percent from 2000. In 2021, California’s population was comprised of 10.45M immigrants, which accounted for 26.6 percent of California’s total population (39.24M).

While the classifications are different, immigrants experience similar challenges and have similar needs as refugees. Approval of the recommended action will establish an Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) that will serve as a central hub for the coordination of services, resources, and advocacy efforts to support Orange County’s immigrant and refugee populations.

6 replies »

  1. I applaud this action along with Do and Chafee.

    I was an older teen when Viet Nam refugees came here. Two and three families were forced into one bedroom apts and people complained about having them “all” crammed in next them with smelly cooking and disgusting ways (putting shoes at the door). They had no concept of our money and were taken advantage of at stores. I hope our Afghan neighbors are welcomed and treated better.

    I’m pleased to hear of this one stop for all refugees and immigrants. I hope its process is smooth and swift.

    • Per the article, 500 Afghans arrived in OC. If you meant ongoing, you can’t put a number on it.

      • You’re right. Too bad Chaffee and Do aren’t more interested in their own constiuents.