Refugee Arrivals: California remains one of the top resettlement destinations for refugees fleeing political and civil unrest or the effects of climate change.

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

Insights and Analyses

  • Refugee resettlement numbers saw historic lows in the U.S. between 2018 and 2022, with the numbers gradually trending upward in recent years. In fiscal year (FY) 2022, the annual refugee resettlement ceiling was raised to 125,000, where it has remained since. The number of refugee admissions, however, remains comparatively low: the U.S. admitted nearly 25,500 refugees in FY 2022, and about 60,000 in FY 2023.
  • California remains one of the top states for refugee arrivals in the U.S. During fiscal years 2012-2022, about 9% of refugee arrivals initially resettled in California.
  • In recent years (2017-2022) Sacramento, San Diego, and Los Angeles counties were the top destinations for refugees in California.
  • Between 2002 and 2022, a large number of refugees have arrived in California from countries like Iran, Iraq, Ukraine, and Laos.
  • As of April 2024, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that there were over 7,200 unaccompanied immigrant children in their care at the 289 facilities and programs funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement that exist in 29 states, though these numbers fluctuate throughout the year
  • Between 1952 and 2022, it is estimated that nearly 5.9 million Palestinian refugees have been displaced from their homeland and live throughout the Middle East. While the mass displacement of Palestinians is rooted in the ongoing violence and occupation by Israel, other factors like the difficulty in obtaining citizenship in other host countries and lack of funding by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) contribute to this displacement crisis. In November 2023, the Safeguarding Americans from Extremism Act was introduced in Congress – a bill that would revoke visas as well as refugee and asylum protections for Palestinians even though, historically, very few Palestinians are admitted as refugees in the U.S. Indeed, according to the Migration Policy Institute, only 26 Palestinian refugees were admitted into the U.S. in 2022. Simultaneously, Democratic leaders and advocates urged President Biden to designate a temporary status to Palestinians in the U.S. As a result, in February 2024, the Biden Administration announced the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) designation for certain Palestinians, deferring their deportation and granting employment authorization for 18 months due to the ongoing conflict.  
  • In April 2022, President Biden announced the creation of the “Uniting for Ukraine” program which would allow 100,000 Ukrainian immigrants to come into the U.S. as refugees. The program, administered by the Department of Homeland Security, would create a pathway for Ukrainian refugees to come to the U.S. through a sponsor. According to Migration Policy Institute data from 2018-2022, the Sacramento and Los Angeles metro areas ranked as fourth and fifth, respectively, in terms of Ukrainian immigrant population centers in the U.S.
  • There has been significant outcry over the preferential treatment that Ukrainian refugees have been offered in the U.S. compared to non-white migrants fleeing violence or persecution in African, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern countries. In a statement, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees urged that the solidarity efforts of the U.S. and other countries demonstrated to refugees fleeing Ukraine should “set the example for all refugee crises.”
  • The number of Afghan immigrants has grown in the U.S.: in 2010, the Afghan immigrant population stood at 54,000 and by 2022 that number was 195,000. In 2022, the U.S. withdrew from the region and many Afghan nationals evacuated to the U.S., primarily through humanitarian parole—a process that grants immigrants temporary status without a pathway to lawful permanent residency. Between 2018 and 2022, California was home to nearly 40% of Afghan immigrants. Despite California’s long-standing commitment to refugees, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Afghan refugees to remain in the state amidst the affordable housing shortage and the state’s cost of living.
  • California is also home to a long-settled Southeast Asian refugee community. A 2020 report from the Southeast Asia Resource Center and Advancing Justice – Los Angeles highlighted that in 2010, about 36% of all Southeast Asian Americans in the U.S. lived in the state.

Although seeking asylum is a human right, in the past few years, U.S. policy changes continue to restrict this right at the southern border, affecting many immigrants, in particular, Black immigrants, continuing the history of racism and exclusion inherent in immigration policy.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, between 2020 and 2022, the federal government used a little-known section of U.S. health law called “Title 42” to deny refugees and asylum seekers entry to the U.S. under the pretense of public health concerns. Although public health experts insisted that public health protocols could be enacted to safely process the entry of refugees and asylum seekers, Title 42 continued to be enforced under the Biden administration with some modifications. This contributed to the deportations of hundreds of thousands of Central American, Haitian, and Mexican immigrants who are denied the right to apply for asylum. Indeed, in 2021, the Haitian Bridge Alliance, The Quixote Center, and The UndocuBlack Network published, The Invisible Wall, a report detailing the history of Title 42 and the life-threatening impacts on Haitian immigrants. However, this is not the first time that Black migrants have been systematically excluded from pathways to immigration—an article by The Washington Post details this long history of exclusion.

In 2023, the Biden administration announced a new method of entry into the U.S. for asylum seekers through the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) App, requiring certain immigrants to submit their information and schedule appointments at ports of entry. Yet, the app has been plagued by issues including: disproportionate rejections of photos of migrants with darker skin tones; lack of access to the technology and connectivity required to download the app; and system errors that prevent users from submitting their information. Further, when the Title 42 order ended in May 2023, the Biden Administration established the “Circumvention of Lawful Pathways Rule” or the asylum transit ban, a new process at the border to manage immigration that advocates have criticized as dangerous and harmful. Legal advocates sued to stop implementation of the regulation that blatantly bans most asylum seekers from entry. However, the regulation remains in place while the case works its way through the courts.

Additionally, in early 2024, the U.S. senate attempted–and failed–to pass a “bipartisan” border bill that would overhaul the asylum system and according to advocates and organizers, “disproportionately impact Black migrants.” In early 2024, advocates and service providers continued to call on the current administration not to restrict asylum as his predecessor did, but instead establish a more humane and effective system that does not jeopardize migrants’ safety. To learn more about the recent asylum policy changes under Biden, read a New York Times article here. To read more about the impact of asylum transit ban on youth, see Immigrant Legal Resource Center’s fact sheet here.

Photo credit: Haitian Bridge Alliance

San Diego’s Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA) advances full economic, social, and civic inclusion of refugee communities.

The Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA), based in San Diego, continues to uplift the voices of African, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian refugee communities in California and around the nation. PANA’s strategies include organizing and leadership development for refugee community members, building electoral power, providing legal resources, and implementing policy victories for the refugee community. Founded, led, and staffed by refugees, PANA uses relational organizing to bring community onto a pathway of ongoing engagement and leadership development to build community power in the fight for social change. Refugee communities have been impacted in recent decades by racial and ethnic profiling, religious discrimination and Islamophobia, increased government surveillance and law enforcement harassment, and less access to equitable housing and job opportunities. A 2020 survey conducted by PANA found that these barriers to belonging still very much exist in San Diego – refugees there experienced triple the rate of unemployment than the countywide rate, a majority worried that they would be the victim of a hate crime, and experienced higher rates of COVID-19 infection due to healthcare access barriers.

Recently, PANA’s work has expanded to include efforts to resettle Afghan refugees and advocate for pathways to permanent legal residency. This push for residency has grown after the U.S. military left Afghanistan in 2021, which resulted in 76,000 Afghans getting humanitarian parole to enter and work in the United States. While the federal government has extended the standard two-year parole period for Afghan refugees and designated Afghanistan as a TPS-designated country through May 2025, it has been slow to process their asylum cases – leaving them in a state of limbo since neither parole nor TPS offer direct paths to permanent residency.

PANA’s recent work also includes partnering with other statewide organizations to advocate for AB 884, which would require each county to provide voting materials in all languages spoken by at least 10,000 individuals of voting age – which would greatly expand access to voters who speak African and Middle Eastern languages. PANA has also advocated for a citywide rent board to protect tenants and preserve affordable housing in San Diego, and organized a refugee census hub to ensure participation in the 2020 Census among hard-to-count communities. To learn more about PANA, click here. To read more about refugee experiences in San Diego, read PANA’s biennial report here.

Photo credit: Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans


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