Contact Form

    News Details

    OC new Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs kicks off work
    • May 30, 2024

    County officials, community members and service providers are celebrating the launch of a new county office that aims to connect immigrants and refugees with vital resources they need to successfully establish a new home in Orange County.

    A Wednesday event at the County Administration North building in Santa Ana acted as the kickoff for the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) and was also the first in-person meeting of the OC Good Neighbor Task Force, a coalition formed after the fall of Kabul in Afghanistan that welcomes and aids the displaced.

    OIRA Director Jose Serrano said the gathering was designed to bring immigrants and refugees – and those who serve them – together so they can learn more about how the office can help the community now that it’s up and running.

    “We want you to know that this is your home and it belongs to all of us,” Serrano told the packed room. “This is about every single one of us that has been a part of this refugee highway, or immigrant pipeline, that has taken all of us to welcome people and help them integrate into the communities of Orange County.”

    The meeting included an overview of the office by Serrano, remarks by county supervisors Doug Chaffee, Vicente Sarmiento and Katrina Foley, and a presentation of awards to task force members that have gone the “extra mile” to help the most vulnerable.

    In their speeches, supervisors said that while immigrants have contributed to the fabric of the community and made their mark across Orange County – from Little Arabia in Anaheim to Little Saigon in Garden Grove and Westminster– many arrive lacking jobs, healthcare, housing and other basic needs.

    Pointing out that nearly 1 million Orange County residents are foreign-born, and about 10% of the county’s population are non-citizens, supervisors said they hope that OIRA becomes a one-stop shop where new arrivals can connect with the valuable resources they need to start a new life in the U.S.

    “Orange County is a prime example of what happens when the immigrant and refugee community thrives,” said Chaffee, who along with Supervisor Andrew Do, brought forth the idea of establishing OIRA. “It uplifts and enriches the lives of everyone around us. I hope that, through this office, we can pay back the community by ensuring equity, opportunity and belonging for all.”

    In his remarks, Sarmiento said that while the county and country may have previously experienced “tension” and “struggle” with immigration, immigrants should now feel welcomed and given housing, workforce development and other resources.

    “Today is a great day, because Orange County is opening its arms, it’s opening its hearts to making sure that transition is just a little bit easier,” he said.

    OIRA serves as a bridge, where immigrants and refugees can be connected with services and resources offered by county departments and community-based organizations.

    The office, which opened in early April, is based at the county’s Social Services Agency administration building in Orange, Serrano said.

    It’s being operated with $500,000 in discretionary funds from Chaffee’s district, and is moving forward with “unanimous support” from the OC Board of Supervisors, Chaffee said.

    Serrano says he is leading the office under three core values: welcome, bridging and celebration. Along with creating an inviting environment that connects immigrants, the office will also highlight their contributions to the community.

    Giselle Aguilar, a youth organizer with Orange County Congregation Community Organization (OCCCO) in Anaheim, was among those who attended Wednesday’s event.

    Aguilar and about 15 OCCCO students and staff members visited to learn more about the office, how they can get involved and how they can spread the word about it.

    “I hope that it’s a backbone for a lot of our communities to initiate whatever service they want to and are eligible for,” Aguilar said, “and in the long run, becomes a place where adults and students can be involved and thrive off these services.”

    Looking toward the future, Serrano said he plans to expand the office in the coming months.

    He says he is working to hire two social workers who will work out of the county’s community service centers in Brea and Westminster, where they will assess clients’ needs and connect them with resources and services to help them get settled.

    He said he will also hold listening sessions with resettlement agencies, service providers and other stakeholders in the coming months to glean insight into the community’s needs.

    Serrano, who has spent more than a decade in various roles supporting immigrants, said OIRA is building on the work that’s already been carried out over the years by local agencies and groups.

    “I’m so honored to be selected as the director of this office,” he said. “I don’t hold this title lightly because I know that a lot of families and people really depend on this network and connection to resources, so I’m super excited.”

    Related Articles

    Local News |

    SoCal high schools work to ensure safe, ‘celebratory’ graduations amid college turmoil over Gaza

    Local News |

    This international film festival amplifies Latino voices with movies that tell universal stories

    Local News |

    Ballroom culture coming to the Long Beach Pride Festival

    Local News |

    Jurupa Valley teacher who said she was fired for Christian beliefs will get $360,000

    Local News |

    How Vietnamese lawmakers struck back after LA County declared Jane Fonda Day

    ​ Orange County Register