Accessibility of Services: A warm, welcoming place has a strong infrastructure of immigrant-serving organizations.

Insights and Analyses

  • The infrastructure of immigrant-serving organizations throughout California varies. In 2019, San Francisco and Nevada counties ranked highest in the number of immigrant-serving organizations per 10,000 non-citizen immigrant residents: 21 in San Francisco County and 14 in Nevada County.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic shed light on the disparities in access to healthcare, emphasizing the need to expand access for the wellbeing of all Californians. In 2019, across California, about 36% of undocumented immigrants, nearly 16% of lawful residents, and 5% of naturalized citizens did not have health insurance coverage.
  • Public hospitals, community clinics, and Medically Indigent Adults (MIA) programs, although they are limited and vary across the state, have been filling in a gap by providing healthcare services to uninsured residents. County MIA programs, designed for low-income, uninsured residents who are not eligible for Medi-Cal, determine benefits and services, as well as eligibility requirements, including whether or not undocumented residents are eligible. Between October 2017 and July 2018, the number of MIA programs accepting individuals regardless of immigration status increased from 11 to 47.
  • In the past few years California has expanded Medi-Cal coverage to cover more of the state’s immigrant residents who are undocumented. Years of advocacy from a broad coalition of organizations has resulted in the ongoing expansion of the program, first to undocumented children (2015), then to youth under 26 (2019), and to seniors ages 50 and above in May of 2022. The state made history by becoming the first state to expand Medi-Cal coverage to eligible undocumented seniors ages 50 and above (this encompasses about 235,000 immigrants). And by 2024, undocumented adults between the ages of 26-49 will have access to healthcare coverage. In doing so, the state is closing a gap in access to healthcare for low-income undocumented residents who have historically been excluded.  
  • Expanding access to healthcare reduces the number of Californians that are uninsured. An analysis of the 2019 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS) by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that low-income undocumented immigrants have the highest uninsured rate (46%). Yet, when excluding Medi-Cal as a form of insurance, the uninsured rate increases to 87%.
  • Research on People of Color (POC) led nonprofits throughout the U.S., with a large portion from California, reveal that since the onset of the pandemic, many organizations have shifted to creatively and rapidly respond to community needs and fulfill the gaps by inefficient policies and systems. While continuing this critical work, many organizations expressed concern about their long-term financial stability.
  •  Amidst COVID-19, the California Immigrant Resilience Fund (CIRF), a public-private partnership with the state of California, was launched to provide cash assistance to undocumented immigrants impacted by the pandemic. The fund raised over $75 million. Although created in response to the pandemic, CIRF established the infrastructure and network throughout the state to rapidly respond to future crises.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected undocumented indigenous communities, many who work in industries impacted by closures. In response, Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo (CIELO) created the Undocumented Indigenous Relief Fund, providing assistance for critical needs to families in Los Angeles. As of February 2021, CIELO had distributed about $1.5 million to over 15,400 individuals throughout California.
  • Legal representation is the most important determinant of deportation outcomes. Yet across the state, there is an urgent need to expand funding and support to organizations providing immigration legal services to fill the unmet gap. An assessment of immigration legal services throughout California, revealed that in 2019, 84% of organizations that responded to the survey indicated that more immigrants were seeking legal assistance than the organization had capacity for. On average, organizations reported that 300 clients were referred each month, 60 of whom were turned away due to the organization’s limited capacity.

San Francisco Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs (SFOCEIA) works in close collaboration with service providers to address immigrant needs. 

Created in 2009 by founding Executive Director Adrienne Pon, SFOCEIA brought together several functions tied to immigrant inclusion: language services, immigrant rights, community safety and engagement, and census 2010. Over a decade later, the department continues its policy, direct services, compliance and grant making work while partnering with a variety of city agencies and local service providers, to strategically implement programs and services in response to the changing national immigration policy landscape. OCEIA hosts a DreamSF Fellowship program that places immigrant youth at a non-profit to gain professional experience while also receiving a monthly stipend, initiated the SF Pathways to Citizenship Initiative, provides grants to immigrant-serving organizations to help with legal services, naturalization efforts, language access and other needs. OCEIA also works with Mission Asset Fund to help residents pay for immigration application fees through a collaborative lending model. According to Deputy Director of Programs, Richard Whipple, their success is based on close collaboration with immigrant-serving organizations, a dedicated staff committed to serving the city’s immigrant population, and community and legislative champions that move policy to support immigrant integration. For more information on the San Francisco Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs, click here.

Photo credit: San Francisco Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) needs to improve the care that it provides to immigrant children living with disabilities held in ORR-contracted facilities in California.

ORR is responsible for housing unaccompanied migrant children who are in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services. Many of these children are living with physical as well as sensory disabilities and mental health conditions. Under ORR policy, children should be placed in facilities according to their needs. As a part of Disability Rights California’s (DRC) work monitoring facilities that house and serve people with disabilities, the organization conducted on-site monitoring of nine ORR-contracted facilities throughout the state. In their 2019 report, DRC found that ORR does not provide adequate special education services, the agency’s services and assessments to evaluate a child’s need for services do not meet California’s standards, and children with disabilities tend to be housed in the most restrictive settings. In the report, DRC recommends a host of changes to the system, including a recommendation to ORR and other entities in charge of detention that they should “rethink the detention of children with mental health needs and other disabilities.”

In May 2021, ORR opened up two Emergency Intake Sites (EIS) in Southern California for unaccompanied children apprehended by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the U.S. Southern Border. The two EIS were located in Pomona and Long Beach, California. The Pomona EIS had a maximum capacity of 2500 beds, while the Long Beach facility had 1000 beds. Both facilities served to provide shelter, food, clothing, legal services, and recreational activities for the children until they were both closed for service. The Long Beach EIS closed down in July 2021, while the Pomona EIS closed in November 2021.

To learn more about DRC’s findings and their recommendations to improve conditions for children living with disabilities under ORR’s care, read the full report here.

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