Gay man to lead SF immigrant affairs office

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday December 20, 2022
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Jorge Rivas has been hired as executive director of San Francisco's Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs. Photo: Courtesy<br>
Jorge Rivas has been hired as executive director of San Francisco's Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs. Photo: Courtesy

A gay man who is the son of Mexican immigrants has been hired to lead San Francisco's office that oversees services and initiatives for immigrants and newcomers. Jorge Rivas will take over as executive director of the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs on January 17.

Rivas previously worked for the city in the Office of Economic and Workforce Development as the director of Invest in Neighborhoods, an interagency partnership aimed at strengthening and revitalizing neighborhood commercial districts. In response to the economic fallout from the COVID pandemic, he worked to assist impacted businesses and oversaw the deployment of more than $24 million in financial support for local small business owners and their employees.

Rivas had been employed by an Oakland nonprofit where he assisted immigrant non-English-speaking business owners. He currently is deputy director of Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Bay Area, which works to preserve and produce affordable housing and economic opportunities for people of color and immigrants.

"As the son of immigrant parents, I understand firsthand the fears and uncertainty the immigrant community experiences," stated Rivas, whose parents came to California in the 1970s and worked as migrant farmers in the San Joaquin Valley. "There's a lot of work ahead of us, and this requires integrity and an unwavering commitment to immigrant communities. Together, I earnestly believe that we can make San Francisco a more welcoming place for all to thrive."

Fluent in Spanish, Rivas is the first in his family to receive a college degree. He earned a B.A. in urban studies from UC Berkeley and a Master's of Planning from the University of Southern California.

In announcing her appointment of Rivas to lead the San Francisco office, City Administrator Carmen Chu noted he brings with him 15 years of experience in economic development and neighborhood services. His resume includes stints as an associate transportation planner at Caltrans, the state transportation department; the Los Angeles Mayor's Office of Housing and Economic Development; and an inaugural member of the San Francisco Soda Tax Implementation Committee.

"Jorge has a deep history working in the city and in community, and as a son of immigrant parents, understands first-hand the struggles that many face when immigrating," stated Chu. "Diversity and immigration have been a big part of our country's history and success, and I know Jorge is deeply committed to ensure that continues in San Francisco."

The city office provides grants to community-based organizations to offer free immigration services, such as assistance with citizenship applications, connections to legal services, and financial support to pay for immigration application fees. It also works to ensure fair access for residents with limited English skills.

Also under the prerogative of the immigrant affairs office is providing resources and technical assistance to the mayor's office, the Board of Supervisors, and departments citywide "to support high quality, culturally competent, multilingual communication," noted Chu's office in a December 20 press release about Rivas' appointment. The office also enforces the city's Language Access Ordinance, which ensures that information provided by city departments and agencies is accessible to residents whose primary language is either Spanish, Chinese, or Filipino.

Community leaders who work within the city's immigrant communities praised the selection of Rivas for his new role. Chinatown Community Development Center Executive Director Malcolm Yeung called him "the right person at the right time as we head into significant social and economic headwinds in the next few years."

Lariza Dugan Cuadra, executive director of CARECEN SF, which works with Latinos and immigrants, particularly those from Central America, added that based on her prior interactions with Rivas she is "confident he will continue to advance the work of this office, increasing opportunities for civic engagement citywide, and lifting the contributions of immigrants to our city's social, economic, cultural and civic fabric. It is also great to see a member of the city's Latinx community leading this office."

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