Foreign Born: California has been home to immigrants for generations.

Each indicator page features a series of charts, insights and analysis, case studies, and related indicators.

Insights and Analyses

  • California is home to 23 percent of immigrants in the U.S., according to a 2024 report by the Public Policy Institute of California using 2022 data from the American Community Survey.
  • In 2021, about 27% of the state’s residents were immigrants. A majority of California’s immigrant population were people of color with 49% identifying as Latino, 34% as Asian American, nearly 2% as Black, nearly 2% as Mixed/other, and 0.4% as Pacific Islander.

  • Black immigrants compose a portion of California’s immigrant population despite often being undercounted and underrepresented. As of 2021 in California, approximately 8% of all Black residents in California were immigrants.

  • Immigrants who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and others (LGBTQ+) are underrepresented in data. According to a 2021 report by the Williams Institute, there were nearly 1.3 million adult immigrants in the U.S. who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT), about 289,700 of whom were undocumented. California was home to an estimated 59,600 undocumented adults who identified as LGBT, the highest number of any state.

  • Out of 174,200 transgender adult immigrants in the U.S., about 41,000 transgender adult immigrants live in California, according to a 2024 report by the UCLA Williams Institute.

  • While the overall number of immigrants in the state are declining, according to the Migration Policy Institute, in 2022, nearly 4 million children in California had at least one immigrant parent.

  • Indigenous migrants are also undercounted and underrepresented as they are often incorrectly lumped into the Latino category. Data collected and mapped by Comunidades Indigenas en Liderazgo (CIELO), and in collaboration with several UCLA centers, illustrates the diversity of Indigenous populations residing in Los Angeles. Results of CIELO’s February 2021 survey on undocumented Indigenous families receiving mutual aid funds also showed that 65% identified as Zapotec, 9% as K’iche, 8% as Triqui, 6% as Chinantec, 5% as Mixe, and 3% as Mixteco.

Indigenous migrants are often overlooked within the immigrant rights movement; however, the recent increase of Indigenous migrants arriving at the border has amplified the visibility of these diverse communities and emphasized the need to support Indigenous-led migrant organizations that provide critical interpretation and translation services.

The barriers that Indigenous migrants face as they apply for asylum in the United States are myriad – and many of them stem from a lack of access to resources and services in their own language. In a December 2019 article, The New Yorker explored the specific barriers faced by Indigenous migrants from Guatemala. Over 250,000 migrants from Guatemala (at least half of whom were Indigenous Maya) were detained at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2019 – after being pushed away from their villages by threats like femicide, climate change, corporate land theft, and anti-Indigenous discrimination. These migrants follow those who arrived in the U.S. in the late twentieth century, fleeing decades of civil war caused by U.S. intervention that led to oppression, land theft, and acts of genocide against Indigenous communities in Guatemala.

Mistranslation and an overall lack of services in Indigenous languages at the border and in asylum hearings (and everywhere in between) has been a critical issue facing Indigenous migrants, as many speak little to no Spanish or English. Indeed, Department of Justice (DOJ) data reports that four Mayan languages – Mam, K’iche’, Q’anjob’al, and Akateko – were among the top 25 languages spoken in U.S. immigration courts in FY 2018 – and even this data may not capture Indigenous migrants who are unable to obtain interpretation services, and so may be assumed to speak Spanish by the court. As recounted by individuals interviewed for The New Yorker article, this lack of adequate translation services has left Indigenous migrants more susceptible to being separated from their children at the border, lacking access to critical healthcare services, and ultimately being unsuccessful in their asylum claims in court. As the U.S. enacts more restrictive asylum policies in recent years, Indigenous migrants and those serving these communities are concerned that being overlooked may continue to severely impact their ability to navigate our complex immigration system.

Advocacy and support for Indigenous migrants – and providing adequate translation services to access government resources – is critical in addressing these issues. One group doing all of this work in Los Angeles is Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo (CIELO), a Zapotec female-led organization that has gathered and published important disaggregated demographic data on Indigenous migrants, who are often instead categorized as “Latinx” and thus invisibilized. The resulting “We Are Here: Indigenous Diaspora in Los Angeles” storymap shows nearly 11,000 individuals from more than 30 Indigenous communities in Mexico and Central America (and who speak more than 17 Indigenous languages) whose households applied to CIELO’s Undocumented Indigenous Fund in 2020 and 2021. Although not every Indigenous migrant household in Los Angeles was captured, this work represents an important step forward in centering Indigenous migrants in data.

Read more about Indigenous communities and language diversity in Los Angeles in an L.A. Times article featuring CIELO’s work here. Learn more about the advocacy work being done by other groups to support Indigenous migrants by visiting the websites of Frente Indígena Oaxaqueño Binacional (Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations) and Espacio Migrante. Read more about the root causes of migration for Indigenous migrants from Guatemala and the work of grassroots translators in the Bay Area in this article in The New Yorker. To learn more about the systemic invisibilization of Indigenous migrants and recommendations for how grantmakers can help address this issue, read Odilia Romero and Xiomara Corpeño’s article in the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s journal here. Read recommendations to visibilize the experiences of Indigenous migrants through the pandemic from ERI- and CIELO-affiliated scholars here.

Photo credit: Stefan Lac

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