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

  • Between 2017 and 2021, the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. as well as the yearly resettlement ceilings were reduced significantly. However, the annual ceilings have since increased and data between fiscal year (FY) 2021 and FY 2023 showed an uptick in refugee admissions. During fiscal year 2023 (October 1, 2022 through May 31, 2023) 31,797 refugees had been settled in the U.S. compared to the 11,411 admitted in FY 2021.
  • As of June 2023, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that there were approximately 7,002 unaccompanied immigrant children in their care at the 296 facilities and programs funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement that exist in 27 states, though these numbers fluctuate throughout the year.

  • 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 these Ukrainian refugees to come to the U.S. through a sponsor. According to Migration Policy Institute data from 2019, the Sacramento metro area and Los Angeles metro area ranked as fourth and fifth, respectively, in terms of Ukrainian population centers in the U.S.

  • There has been significant outcry over the preferential treatment that Ukranian refugees have been offered in the U.S., as compared to non-white migrants coming from other war-torn countries like Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia.

  • California remains one of the states receiving the largest number of refugees. During fiscal years 2010-2020, about 10% of refugee arrivals resettled in California.

  • In recent years (2017-2021) Sacramento, San Diego, and Los Angeles counties were the top destinations for refugees in California.

  • Between 2002 and 2021, a large number of refugees have arrived in California from countries like Iran, Iraq, Ukraine, and Laos.

  • California is also home to a long-settled Southeast Asian refugee community. A 2020 report showed that in 2010, about 36% of all Southeast Asian Americans in the U.S. (i.e., Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, and Hmong) lived in the state.

  • 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.

  • A 2021 report by the World Bank wrote that as climate change continues to contribute to the displacement of vulnerable communities in places like South Asia, Central America, Northwest Africa, and the Horn of Africa, by 2050, 86 million migrants may move to Sub-Saharan Africa; 49 million to East Asia and the Pacific region; 40 million to South Asia; 19 million to North Africa; 17 million to Latin America; and 5 million to Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

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

San Diego’s Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA) continues to uplift the voices of African, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian refugee communities. This includes those who have been impacted by racial and ethnic profiling; religious discrimination and Islamophobia; increased government surveillance and law enforcement harassment; barriers to healthy housing; and family-sustaining jobs. 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. Recently, this work has expanded to include efforts of resettling Afghan refugees and advocating for pathways to permanent legal residency. This push for residency has grown after the U.S. military left Afghanistan in 2021, which resulted in millions of residents leaving the country—an estimated 76,000 of which have settled across the United States, as of March 2022, with temporary “parole” status that provides a right to work without a path to residency.

Founded, led, and staffed by refugees, PANA uses relational organizing to bring community onto a pathway of ongoing engagement and advances indigenous community leadership development to build power in the fight for social change. During Fall 2020, the organization conducted a survey to assess the state of the refugee community in San Diego, where the organization found that the unemployment rate within the refugee community was three times higher than San Diego County’s overall rate. Additionally, the survey showed that 65% of respondents felt fear of being targeted for hate crimes—highlighting the atmosphere of anti-immigrant sentiment even in dense immigrant regions like San Diego. PANA also discovered that refugees in their region were more susceptible to COVID-19 due to the low testing rates, lack of trust in health care providers, and high rates of hesitancy towards vaccines.

PANA’s recent work also includes partnering with other state-wide and national organizations to repeal the Muslim Ban, advocating for a citywide rent board to protect tenants and preserve affordable housing, and organizing 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

Launched in 2015 by the Black LGBTQIA + Migrant Project (BLMP), Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement (Familia: TQLM), Mijente, and the Transgender Law Center (TLC), the #EndTransDetention campaign is advocating for transgender and queer migrants in detention.

While seeking asylum in the U.S. after fleeing persecution, violence, or torture, many transgender women and queer people are detained at the border. A report by the Human Rights Watch, details the inadequate conditions that transgender women face while in detention centers across the U.S. that often lead to harsh and even fatal consequences. In response, organizations like BLMP, Familia: TQLM, Mijente, and TLC, along with their partner organizations, are collaborating to raise national and local awareness about the violence committed against transgender individuals in detention centers. They have organized demonstrations and campaigns on social media platforms, including #FreeValeria, #FreeNicoll, #FreeChristina, and #JusticeforRoxsana. More recently, the campaign advocated for the release of Eva Rosas, a Mexican transgender woman who had been detained for two years. In April of 2021, Eva was released and is now processing her asylum case. During Pride Month in June 2021 the #EndTransDetention campaign held 10 actions in different cities, including Santa Ana and San Francisco. These 10 actions culminated in Washington, D.C. where BLMP, Familia: TQLM, Mijente, and TLC, along with their partners, met to advocate for the immediate release of all transgender people in detention living with critical health conditions. Beyond policy advocacy, these organizations also provide resources to support transgender immigrants. For example, BLMP, a project of TLC, provides community-based support like post-detention resources for Black LGBTQ+ migrants including housing for asylum seekers, translation services, pro-bono legal services, financial support, and development of deportation defense campaigns. To learn more about the #EndTransDetention campaign visit their site here and read BLMP’s press release here. To learn more about the issues transgender and queer migrants face in detention centers, read the Human Rights Watch Report here. To read about TLC, Familia: TQLM, and BLMP’s work, read Rewire News Group’s article here.

Photo credit: Paolo Riveros


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