After a year on the job, San Diego’s director of immigration affairs worries most about housing

Farhat Popal is the Director of Immigrant Affairs for the City of San Diego. This year was his first post, which in itself is new for San Diego.

Her job is to make sure municipal services are accessible to immigrants and to find ways for San Diego to better support its immigrant communities. This means examining how the issues faced by San Diego residents particularly affect immigrants, including housing costs.

Prior to her work in the city, Popal worked extensively in the area of ​​human rights, including women’s rights and immigrant rights, in the United States and Afghanistan. She is a member of the Truman National Security Project Fellow and a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy.

The Union-Tribune asked Popal to reflect on the past year and what she expects to see in 2022.

Question: What has been the biggest challenge in your job as an Immigration Manager over the past year?

A: According to the UNHCR, 1 in 95 people on Earth have fled their homes as a result of conflict or persecution. In San Diego this year, this was manifested in the needs of the unaccompanied migrant children we supported at the Convention Center from March to July; the challenges faced by Haitian migrants and the needs of the community as a result of the events in Haiti; and the resettlement and integration needs of Afghan families arriving in our region. The biggest challenge has been to find concrete and sustainable ways to support our community of immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers and asylum seekers while trying to meet the immediate needs of specific populations due to these types of problems. ‘events.

Question: Did something surprise you about your job?

A: It’s no surprise, but something that really struck and inspired me this year is the vast network of amazing community organizations in our region that serve and support people in need every day. From our refugee resettlement agencies, ethnic community organizations, advocacy groups and organizations, volunteer groups, service groups, faith-based organizations, etc., this network does a heroic job of ensuring that no San Diegan is left over. I started in this role in January, and as I complete my first year, I am extremely grateful for the partnership of these organizations and look forward to working closely together next year.

Question: What problems or concerns keep you from sleeping at night?

A: The high cost of living in our region and the impact this has on the ability of our community of immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers and asylum seekers to be successful in their lives keeps me from sleeping at night . While this impacts the lives of many San Diego residents, our foreign-born population may already be at a disadvantage given the challenges and impacts of migration, resettlement, and the rebuilding process in their new home.

This can hamper their ability to find safe and stable housing; may require multiple jobs to make ends meet; can make it impossible to create generational wealth; and more. Our foreign-born population is extremely entrepreneurial, but we need to do a better job of ensuring equitable access to opportunities for all. Mayor Gloria and city leaders are working on it and I know we will see some progress.

Lots of other things keep me awake at night: how to support our undocumented population; how to defend DACA beneficiaries; how to ensure equitable access to education and economic opportunities to improve economic mobility; how to build better trust between communities and government; and more.

Question: What do you think of the situation of the newly arrived Afghans in San Diego?

A: Our region’s refugee resettlement agencies, community organizations, Afghan-American groups, resident-led volunteer groups and many more have been working day and night to support incoming Afghans and create the welcoming environment. that these families deserve. But the challenges are immense: securing permanent housing remains difficult, and it delays other aspects of resettlement and integration – and this applies to all refugee populations arriving in our region. They have also experienced traumatic trips, and the sooner they have stability in their life, the faster they can rebuild themselves.

Question: What do you hear from the Afghan and Afghan American community in San Diego? How have people been since the Taliban took power?

A: It has been a very difficult time for our Afghan and Afghan-American community, many of whom still have family members in Afghanistan who are at risk of violence, marginalization and now starvation. It has also been a difficult time for our veterans community and the countless individuals and organizations that have taken action to try to keep America’s promise to help allies and their families to safety. . And that pain and worry will not be a short-term reaction but a long-term feeling that these communities will grapple with – to see Afghanistan’s progress in 20 years wiped out in a matter of weeks is traumatic in itself.

Question: What do you think you will focus on in your role as immigration officer in the coming year?

A: My goal is to identify concrete things we can do now while working on strategic planning for the future, which includes amplifying the great work already being done by community and regional partners; identify where there may be gaps; and where the city is uniquely positioned to fill some of these gaps. It also means ensuring that all city services are provided with an eye on immigrant inclusion and access.

Question: What is the important question for immigrants that is not making the headlines?

A: So many immigrants need access to affordable legal services, whether it’s adjusting their legal status, gaining access to representation for detention and removal hearings, or a number of other situations that require the expertise of licensed professionals. Legal representation often makes the difference between success or failure in court. We have a large network of pro bono and low cost legal service providers, but it is understandable that they are inundated with the immense needs of the population. The county has set up a legal representation fund for immigrants facing deportation proceedings, and this is a really important step in the right direction.

Question: What hope or dream do you have for San Diego in 2022?

A: My hope is that all residents of San Diego will be healthy, safe, and economically secure; that we all take the time to focus on our physical, mental and social well-being; and may our region be able to mobilize resources and support to ensure that our most vulnerable neighbors are not left behind as we seek to recover from this unprecedented global pandemic.

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