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Virginia’s first AAPI caucus introduces bills to help refugees

Virginia AAPI Caucus Del Mark Keam Fairfax .jpg
Posted at 12:00 PM, Jan 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-19 12:27:49-05

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia’s first Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) caucus addressed proposed legislation on Wednesday aimed at helping immigrants and refugees assimilate into our communities.

Most lawmakers standing in the House Briefing Room shared a common life experience. They moved to the United States for a chance at a better life.

“I myself am an immigrant coming to this country as a young child from India,” said State Senator Ghazala Hashmi (D-Richmond).

Hashmi joined her AAPI caucus colleagues on Virginia Refugee Advocacy Day to urge other lawmakers to strengthen the state’s resettlement programs and invest in the capacity to welcome refugees.

“When you enter into a new country where you might not know the language, not knowing another soul, may not have anything in your pocket but your hopes and dreams for a better future for yourself and your family,” said Del. Kathy Tran (D-Springfield).

Recently, thousands of refugees from Afghanistan settled in Central Virginia to escape Taliban rule and violence.

“Among some immigrants they are those who come to a country involuntary because of wars, or religious reasons or political reasons,” Del. Mark Keam (D-Fairfax) explained. “They really deserve an extra set of services, and those services have to come from our communities.”

They worked to pass legislation that would increase the ratio of English-language learner teachers in schools.

Lawmakers also addressed their support for Former Governor Ralph Northam budget request for a total of $8 million for the Office of New Americans to invest in communities to help refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants integrate and thrive.

House Bill 979/Senate Bill 68 would ease the process for refugees and immigrants who have the appropriate skills and credentials to teach in the classrooms.

“We are facing a massive crisis of teachers in Virginia, but at the same time we have folks coming from other countries with the skills, qualifications, credentials to become our instructors and our k-12 systems,” Hashmi stated.

The AAPI caucus also supported three budget proposals to help Virginians have access to affordable housing, including:

  • (a) $300 million for the Virginia Housing Trust Fund to build new affordable housing units and prevent homelessness
  • (b) rental assistance for those needing but not receiving federal assistance
  • (c) $10 million to create a Restorative Housing Pilot Program to increase homeownership among populations who have been historically excluded from homeownership opportunities.

Keam admitted housing remains scarce for new and existing Virginians. He said lawmakers are looking at ways to expand affordable housing by converting government-owned buildings into units.

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