While the San Diego area is home to more than 30,000 refugees, what the founding “elders” of the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA) determined, was that the issues of those refugees – specifically ones from Black, African, Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (BAMEMSA) communities – were not being prioritized in the region. PANA was established in 2015 to fight to advance the full economic, social, and civic inclusion of immigrants and refugees as equal stakeholders. As an advocacy organization, PANA focuses on a wide range of issues, prioritized by its steering committee, and works to amplify the lived experiences of these communities at the local, state, and national levels.
Through relational organizing, PANA works to develop a powerful ecosystem of change, engaging smaller groups providing direct services or culturebuilding support to combine their voices and experiences. While the broader BAMEMSA refugee community in Southern California is representative of ethnic populations from three continents, speaking hundreds of languages, many of the challenges they face, such as affordable house and tenant protections, are mutual ones. Another shared issue, the deep-rooted impacts of surveillance, was exacerbated by the recognition that the San Diego police department had access to thousands of smart street light cameras – also referred to as “spy street cameras” – that were being used in communities. This led PANA to establish the TRUST (Transparent and Responsible Use of Surveillance Technology San Diego) Coalition.
Comprised of more than 30 community partners, the TRUST Coalition called for community oversight of the use of city’s surveillance technology. On behalf of the coalition, PANA drafted two ordinances, one calling for the creation of a privacy advisory board and another that developed expectations for the board’s work, instilling reporting requirements for the city government and a process for reviewing existing technologies and new ones the city seeks to acquire. The ordinance language was intentionally drafted to ensure individuals installed on the advisory board would be experts in tech and other relevant fields. Both ordinances proposed by PANA and the TRUST Coalition passed San Diego’s City County Council unanimously in 2022 and are already taking effect. The city has conducted community meetings in all nine districts to gather input on surveillance technology, and the advisory board is engaged in the process of vetting a potential new contract for smart street lights.
In 2022, PANA also served on a national coalition working to support the resettlement of 76,000 Afghans who came to the United States after the withdrawal of armed forces from Afghanistan, as well as helping to reunify thousands of Afghan children who arrived in the country unaccompanied with their families. Additionally, PANA planned and fundraised in 2022 to build a refugee and immigrant hub that would create a safe environment for more intentional gathering and collaboration among the communities it serves, purchasing the space for that hub earlier this year. PANA’s leadership says being part of another community comprised of RTF grantees has brought value to all of its efforts.