On Wednesday, May 3, Utah Governor Spencer Cox held a ceremonial bill signing for H.B.102–marking a historic moment for Utah’s newcomers and a landmark in Utah’s ongoing support for immigrant communities. H.B.102, the most inclusive in-state tuition legislation in the country, extends in-state tuition to refugees, asylees, humanitarian parolees, Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, and asylum seekers upon arrival in Utah.

IRC group at the Utah legislative session
Photo: IRC

H.B.102 "Higher Education Amendments," focused on education access in public colleges and universities. By extending in-state tuition to refugees, asylees, humanitarian parolees, SIVs, TPS holders, and asylum seekers, H.B.102 helps Utah’s newcomers reach their full academic, professional, and economic potential, thus promoting the successes of Utah’s newcomer communities and expanding their contributions to Utah’s workforce, economy, and shared prosperity. The IRC was privileged to support community members in sharing their stories in support of this legislation, including Mahsa, an IRC client who provided testimony to the House and Senate Education committees and shared that pursuing higher education is her dream, but the high cost of out-of-state tuition has prohibited her from achieving her full potential. You can watch Mahsa and other powerful community members’ testimony here »

IRC Advocacy during Utah’s 2023 Legislative Session

After partnering with clients, staff, and community leaders to identify the most crucial education-related needs and opportunities, the IRC State Advocacy Team and SLC office prioritized other measures, in addition to H.B.102, to improve access to education for newcomers. This was just one example of IRC’s impact on state policy this session. Read on to learn more about our other priorities!

H.B.154 "English Language Learner Amendments” ensures schools get the funding they need to support multilingual families through language access services, including interpretation and translation. Similarly, the IRC advanced an appropriations request for $3 million for English language learner instructional support materials, including software designed to teach students English. After educating lawmakers on the importance of multilingual services, the IRC secured increased resourcing for Utah’s schools, which will now receive $5 million annually to support English language learner students and their families.

H.B.154 and H.B.102 passed both houses of the Utah Legislature unanimously, which is an incredible achievement. This legislation is already having an impact, and many of the IRC in Salt Lake City’s clients are preparing to apply for and attend college in the fall.

Annie Healion giving testimony
Advocacy Officer at the IRC, Aniie Healion, giving testimony at the 2023 legislative session.
Photo: IRC

Connecting Communities and Informing Lawmakers

In addition to advancing pro-refugee legislation, the IRC aims to ensure local elected leaders have opportunities to learn about resettlement in their state, their refugee community members, and the community-based organization, like the IRC, that work with newcomers. One key engagement moment during this legislative session was “Refugees in Utah: 2023 Legislative Briefing,” an educational event for state legislators. In partnership with Utah’s two other refugee resettlement agencies, Catholic Community Services of Utah and the Cache Refugee Immigrant Connection, and the State Office for Refugees, the IRC shared information with state legislators about Utah’s newcomer population, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, and ongoing efforts to support refugees in Utah. The briefing featured Ahimara Suarez, a member of the IRC in SLC’s New American Advisory Council, who spoke about the importance of legislative support in easing newcomers’ transition to their new home. 

With the support of the IRC, clients, and other impacted community members have a unique opportunity to engage in state-level policies that impact them by meeting with their elected leaders, providing feedback as policies are developed, and testifying on behalf of legislation. To prepare for the 2023 legislative session, the IRC supported community members to engage in state-level policy development, meet with their elected leaders, and engage in the legislative process. This included ensuring clients had the materials and preparation necessary to have empowered conversations with legislators and develop impactful testimony.The IRC’s successes in Utah this legislative session are the direct result of close collaboration with impacted community members, the expertise of programmatic staff in local offices, local networks of support, and agile political acumen. 

The IRC is appreciative of our community advocates, legislative partners, and Governor Cox for their leadership in support of resettled communities. This ceremonial signing is a clear signal that Utah welcomes newcomers in the Utah way.