Photo by Crissy Pascual/Zuma Press. copyright 2008 U-T San Diego. (Credit Image: © The U-T San Diego/ZUMA Press)



  • Ensure immigrant residents have access to City services, health care and legal services by actively removing barriers such as language, culture, awareness and feasibility.

  • Build trust by reducing fear and exploitative practices, and by advancing rights-education and access to safe and affordable legal services.

Background and Community Input

Community members shared that while there are a number of excellent services available for newcomers in the San Diego region, immigrants and refugees are not always able to access the services they need. This happens for a number of reasons, including language barriers, lack of reliable transportation to easily get to where the services are offered, not having a centralized location where people can go to access services, not having enough information about existing services, insufficient outreach and fear of deportation. Additionally, legal status prevents some individuals from being able to access certain services.

Residents also expressed a desire for both government-sponsored and nonprofit services, and help being able to navigate the services that exist. In particular, community members mentioned that they wanted more of these types of services: health and medical insurance, mental health services and trauma-informed care, affordable housing, financial, employment and job skills training, food, transportation, municipal ID, ESL classes and legal assistance (including help applying for citizenship).

To address the barriers that community members raised, city and county governments should consider focusing on activities that expand language access, make it easier for people to get to services, effectively outreach to make sure people have information on how to access government services, build community trust and expand services available to immigrants and refugees in our region.

…the city should consider focusing on activities that expand language access, make it easier for people to get to services, effectively outreach to make sure people have information on how to access city services, build community trust and expand services available to immigrants and refugees in our city.


12. Expand language access and ensure services are user-friendly and culturally-responsive.

Short-Term Strategies (Year 1-3):

A. Assess current implementation and effectiveness of language access policies for threshold languages and identify additional languages and culturally-responsive methods to ensure meaningful access for under-reached populations.35

B. Create printed guides in multiple languages, mobile application and/or tech-enabled kiosks across the region to increase awareness and make use of services more accessible by immigrants and refugees.36

C. Increase and update languages needed in frontline City services and develop or consolidate language access plans and programs across key agencies.

D. Utilize public library materials budget to expand collections of popular and informational materials in languages of immigrant and refugee populations, in addition to English.

Long-Term Strategies (Year 3-5):

E. Incentivize current municipal employees to complete language and cultural responsiveness courses as part of their professional development, and increase hiring of multilingual and immigrant staff in frontline city service agencies.

F. Recruit and retain personnel from cultures of refugee and immigrant communities who are bi/multilingual by creating scholarships for immigrant and refugee students to study health sciences, social work and human services and offer incentives to fill the cultural and linguistic gaps of local service providers.

G. Publish annual compliance reports that include recommendations for continued improvement and individual score cards for relevant agencies; ensure City practices meet standards of a certified Welcoming City.

H. Work with county, state and federal offices to help expand services available to immigrants and refugees in our region (including but not limited to healthcare, mental health services, transportation, housing, legal defense and immigration services.)

I. Promote affordable housing guidance and renter rights in targeted languages and ensure a stronger immigrant voice on housing and community development strategic planning processes.

13. Advance civil rights and eliminate unscrupulous practices.

Short-Term Strategies (Year 1-3):

A. Advocate for policies that help protect and advance the rights of immigrants and refugees at the county, state and federal level. Oppose policies that target or profile immigrants and endanger their status.

B. Accept consular IDs and other forms of foreign citizenship documents across agencies.

C. Centralize and offer safe immigration and legal information through accessible locations, such as public libraries.37

Long-Term Strategies (Year 3-5):

F. ncrease or establish dedicated funding for immigration services such as naturalization assistance, legal defense, emergency shelter, services for migrant children and families, forensic documentation for asylum cases and know-your-rights workshops.38

G. Increase coordination between local, state and federal law enforcement to address fraudulent actors and legal practices in the community; initiate multilingual community outreach efforts from City Attorney and/or District Attorney to educate the public and identify cases.39

H. Explore creating a San Diego ID for individuals who have barriers to obtaining existing government-issued identification, such as individuals experiencing homelessness, undocumented immigrants, youth, elderly and the formerly incarcerated – to improve access to banking and public services, and offer benefits and discounts to transit, library and cultural institutions.40

14. Increase mobility and usage of public transportation.

Short-Term Strategies:

A. Partner with public transportation agencies to create more route maps, user guides and workshops available in different languages.

B. Provide affordable drivers training and assistance in purchasing new vehicles through matched savings programs or other loan products for newcomers.

Long-Term Strategies:

C. Partner with ride-sharing and mobility companies on guaranteed ride home incentives for New American families who are reliant on public-transit for their new jobs and medical appointments.

D. Provide immigrants and refugees with free bus and trolley passes for the initial period of their arrival as they become familiar with their commutes.

E. Offer a discount bus pass option for adult education students through MTS for adults enrolled in courses in citizenship, ESOL, VESOL, high school diploma/equivalency and career training.

35  Examples of Language Access Programs and Compliance Reporting: Washington, D.C. (
36  Example of printed guides to city services, Boston’s Office of Immigrant Advancement (
37  Best Practice: Lawyers in the LIbrary, San Francisco Public Library (
38 Best Practice: New York Immigrant Family Unity Project ( Local Example: SD Immigrant Rights Consortium’s Borderland Get Fund (
39 Best Practice: Notario Fraud Unit and Meet the Community team, Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office (
40  Best Practice: IDNYC (