Immigration Status: The variety and complexity of immigration statuses can create diverse challenges for California’s immigrants, many of whom are our co-workers, neighbors, friends, and family.

Insights and Analyses

  • Protections for undocumented Californians are crucial. In 2018, there were about 2,381,177 immigrants across the state who were undocumented.
  • A majority of lawful permanent residents (LPRs) were people of color. In 2018, Latinos and Asian Americans composed 53% and 30% of LPRs in California, respectively.
  • Some immigration statuses are temporary in nature, creating instability and anxiety for immigrants who have to renew their statuses frequently. Across California, in 2018, there were about 185,000 immigrants who had Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Moreover, as of February 2019, there were about 200,000 immigrants who were Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients themselves or lived in a household with someone who was (estimates are based on USC ERI analysis of American Community Survey microdata). 
  • Immigrants who identify as LGBTQ+ are often underrepresented. According to the Williams Institute, in 2011, there were 904,000 adult immigrants in the U.S. that identified as LGBT. Of this number, 267,000 were undocumented. Moreover, as of 2016, there were about 22,000 LGBT individuals who were eligible for DACA in California.
  • California is also home to a large number of international students studying in the U.S. Data by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVI) show that as of January 2020, there are over 184,000 active international students in California.

Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) Organizer Phal Sok, formerly incarcerated and targeted for deportation by ICE, shares his story to emphasize the need to reform “crimmigration,” the intersection of criminal law and immigration policy. 

As an infant, Phal Sok and his family were granted permanent resident status in the U.S. after fleeing the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia and spending time in a refugee camp in Thailand. When they arrived in Los Angeles, they were forced to navigate a whole new way of life and Phal's parents did not do well. They divorced before Phal's third birthday and his mother never turned back. As a youth, Phal's father passed away and he was left without resources. When he went to his school seeking support, he was pushed out. Soon thereafter, he was arrested for armed robbery, tried as an adult, and sentenced to prison for 23 years and eight months.

In 2015, Phal was one of the first and few that was granted parole thanks to SB-260, a bill that recognized juveniles should not be treated as adults. On the day of his release from prison, despite having permanent resident status and having gone through a vigorous parole suitability process, Phal was arrested and detained for ICE. He was ordered deported and eventually temporarily released pending deportation. Before he was re-detained by ICE four months later, Phal connected with community members in L.A. including a local church who encouraged him to fight his deportation. He filed on his own in the federal courts and was later released in late November 2016 under bond. He began to organize in L.A. and became a member of YJC working on "crimmigration."

In 2018, he received a full and unconditional pardon from then-Governor Jerry Brown to help protect him from deportation. As an organizer, he has given back to his community in L.A., supporting immigrant youth and formerly incarcerated people. He has played key roles in YJC campaigns such as stopping the construction of new jails in L.A. County and YJC's FREE L.A. High School. 

For more information about Phal’s story, you can read this profile. To learn more about YJC’s work, visit youthjusticela.org and @youthjusticela on Instagram and Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Phal Sok.

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