California may become the first state in the nation to outlaw caste-based bias, a safeguard people of South Asian descent say is necessary to protect them from discrimination in housing, education and the tech sector where they hold key roles.

State Sen. Aisha Wahab, the first Muslim and Afghan American elected to the state legislature, introduced the bill Wednesday. It adds caste — a division of people related to birth or descent — as a protected category in the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

Those at the lowest strata of the caste system known as Dalits, have been increasingly calling for such legislation saying they have faced this kind of discrimination in the United States. But such policies remain divisive.

Wahab said caste discrimination is “a social justice and civil rights issue.”

“People came to this country so they can be free and can pursue their American dream without any disruption to their lives,” Wahab said, adding that she heard about this form of discrimination growing up in Fremont, California, and living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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