Founder, Executive Director
Leading Edge Idea: To transform the lives of refugees and asylum seekers in California by guaranteeing them full rights and protections and advancing meaningful freedom for all.
What is your vision for your community? For California?
San Diego’s motto is the “Nation’s Finest City”. We want it to actually be that for everybody— for San Diego to be a true, world class city for all of our people. This can only be achieved when newcomer families have the full support they need to have meaningful inclusion in civic, social, and economic spaces.
Our vision is to meaningfully invest in people so that they are set up from the beginning to thrive and to succeed, and for California to be an example for other states to follow.
What problem are you working to solve?
For far too long, we have been comfortable thinking that there was bipartisan support for refugees. Now, under the cover of night, at a moment where everyone feels under attack, we are seeing deep erosions in refugee and asylum protections and in the way that we treat and welcome people into this country. In San Diego, we are witnessing first-hand newcomer families who have barely been here a few months end up in homelessness, and people at the border who are being turned away for seeking asylum, which is legally their right.
It is time we shift the conversation about refugees, asylum seekers and the ways that we welcome, receive, and protect people. We want to use California as an opportunity state to expand the definition of refugees and expand protections so people have their full rights and the support they need to achieve meaningful belonging in their new home.
Can you share any experiences that exemplify this problem?
Resettled families have only a few short months of limited support. This support pays for the initial security deposit, and the first two months of rent. After that, families are expected to be self-sufficient. We have had families who have become homeless within the first five months of being resettled. Our families cope with the high costs of housing by working multiple jobs to make ends meet, sacrifice their other needs to live, and often are doubling up, tripling up, or living in very overcrowded housing to maintain a roof over their heads. This is a trap of poverty and does not help build or setup families to succeed.
At what stage is your idea?
We have a proven model, and developing and supporting authentic community leaders is at the heart of it. We have also defined a strong community-driven agenda through our organizing, integrated civic engagement, and biennial house meeting and leadership program.
Now, we are focused on strengthening our staff capacity so that we can take on more courageous demands and actions. We are ready to scale and take our work to the next level.
What barriers have you faced, or continue to face, in achieving your vision of change?
We believe in this vision of being a people-led movement, and that means hiring and being led by those most impacted by this work. It also means we are trying to build leaders from communities where, for the first time, we are investing in power-building strategies. Traditionally, government, nonprofits, and philanthropy have all targeted investments for refugees in the form of direct services and in education. These investments are needed and we can and should do more here; however, we can’t forget to invest in building leadership from this community. PANA is committed to building the voice, visibility, and impact of this community. We are deeply committed to this; the challenge is that is resource intensive.
How will the world be different if you are successful?
If California leans in the way we want it to, moving beyond rhetoric into action, we have an opportunity to build a model for what it means to have a resettlement process that is humane. One that gives people what they need to succeed and that inspires us to do more for everyone in our communities. This work is about living up to our national ideals of being a welcoming place of asylum for those seeking protection—“give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.”
What are your goals for your time as a Leading Edge Fund fellow?
We have an opportunity to be on the front lines of the fight for human rights, and to be a part of a public interest community that is incubating cutting edge refugee and racial justice policy for the entire country. The Leading Edge fellowship offers us an opportunity to build on our local successes and translate that to statewide impact. We will advance significant policy at the county and state level to ensure newly resettled refugees have equal access to family sustaining jobs, quality and healthy homes, and meaningful education that translates to ability to enter and be in the workforce.