After a nearly 8 months of uncertainty, Oregon House Bill 2508, AKA the Welcoming Refugees Bill, passed in late June, at the eleventh hour of the legislative session. The bill paves the way for the state’s three resettlement agencies, Catholic Charities among them, to continue serving refugees as they rebuild safe, sustainable lives for themselves and their families.
While enormous vocal support from both sides of the political aisle could be seen in the weeks and months leading up to its passage, the three months the Welcoming Refugees Bill spent in committee caused anxiety, even doubt, that statewide support was not as strong as it appeared on the news or within Oregon’s network of refugee service organizations.
Concern hit terminal velocity when a number of state senators walked out in protest over an unrelated cap and trade bill, casting further doubt about the fate of HB 2508 (and 100 other bills that remained to be voted on). Without quorum, it was feared that the Welcoming Refugees Bill, once considered a shoo-in, would die with the end of the legislative session.
But when the missing senators finally returned and quorum was reached, HB 2508 was met not with hesitation, as many thought it would be, but with open arms. The Welcoming Refugees Bill passed with virtually unanimous support in the Senate (after already receiving an overwhelming majority in the House), signaling Oregon’s resolve to keep our state open and inclusive for those fleeing violence, poverty, and persecution.
In the wake of continued federal cutbacks to refugee resettlement, the extra layer of state funding provided by the bill will allow agencies like Catholic Charities to continue serving new arrivals with critical resources like English lessons, employment training, trauma-informed counseling, intensive case management, and advocacy.
It was a coalition of faith organizations and community leaders that got the bill passed, including Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and Lutheran Community Services Northwest. It is our hope that similar partnerships in other states will work together to ensure the entire U.S., not just select states, remains a compassionate and inclusive place for the world’s refugees.