- The United States is one of the main destinations for illegal immigrants in the world, with an estimated 11.39 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country as of 2018.
- California is the state with the largest and most diverse population of illegal immigrants in the US.
- California is home to about 2.3 million unauthorized immigrants, accounting for 20% of the national total and 6% of the state’s population as of 2019.
- The majority of California’s illegal immigrants are from Mexico, but there are also sizable groups from Central America, Asia, and other regions.
- California’s illegal immigrants are concentrated in the large coastal metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and San Jose.
- California has been a leader in adopting pro-immigrant policies that protect and support its unauthorized residents.
Illegal immigration is the phenomenon of foreign nationals entering or residing in a country without proper authorization. It is a complex and controversial issue that affects the economy, society, politics, and security of both the sending and receiving countries.
The United States is one of the main destinations for illegal immigrants in the world and California is the state with the largest and most diverse population of illegal immigrants in the US.
Illegal immigration has been a contentious topic in the US for decades. The federal government has implemented various laws and programs to regulate, assist, or deter illegal immigration. However, these measures have not been able to fully resolve the issue or satisfy all stakeholders. Some states and localities have also enacted their own laws and policies on illegal immigration, either to cooperate with or challenge the federal government. California has been a leader in adopting pro-immigrant policies that protect and support its unauthorized residents.
How Illegal Immigrants Are Estimated And Measured In California
- There is no direct way to count the number of illegal immigrants in California or any other state because they are not directly identified in any official data sources. However, researchers have developed methods to estimate the size and characteristics of this population using indirect approaches. One of the most widely used methods is the residual method, which is based on subtracting the number of legal immigrants from the total number of foreign-born residents in a given area.
- The residual method relies on two main sources of data: census or survey data that provide information on the total foreign-born population and their demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, and administrative data that provide information on the legal immigrant population and their admission categories and dates. The legal immigrant population includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents (green card holders), refugees and asylees, temporary visa holders, and other authorized immigrants.
- The residual method involves several steps and assumptions to account for different factors that affect the estimation process, such as undercounting of foreign-born residents in census or survey data, uncertainty about the legal status of some immigrants, changes in immigration laws and policies over time, and migration flows between states and countries. The method also involves adjusting the estimates for different levels of geography, such as national, state, or county. These estimates are subject to some margins of error and may vary depending on the data sources and assumptions used.
Statistics On Illegal Immigrants In California
- Number: In 2019, there were about 2.3 million illegal immigrants in California, down from 2.9 million in 2010.
- Share: California is home to more than 20% of the nation’s illegal immigrants, and they constitute more than 6% of the state’s population. Nearly one in ten California workers (9%) is an illegal immigrant. More than 12% of California’s K–12 school children have an illegal immigrant parent.
- Origin: The vast majority of California’s illegal immigrants are from Latin America (71%), especially Mexico (52%). The rest are from Asia (13%), Europe (7%), Africa (4%), and other regions (3%).
- Location: Illegal immigrants are concentrated in the state’s large coastal metropolitan areas. In 2019, foreign-born residents represented at least a third of the population in Santa Clara (40%), San Mateo (35%), San Francisco (34%), Los Angeles (33%), and Alameda (34%) Counties. In the far northern counties and the Eastern Sierra region, foreign-born residents made up 7% or less of the population.
2023 Statistics of the Illegal Immigrant Population in California
|Estimate||% of Total|
|55 and over||293,000||11%|
|Top Countries of Birth|
Comparison Of California’s Illegal Immigrant Population With Other States And The US
- California has the largest number of illegal immigrants among all states, with about 2.3 million in 2019. This is more than twice as many as the next state, Texas, which had about 1.6 million illegal immigrants in 2019. Florida, New York, and New Jersey followed with about 775,000, 725,000, and 475,000 illegal immigrants respectively.
- California also has the highest share of illegal immigrants among its total population, with more than 6% in 2019. This is higher than the national average of about 3.2%. Nevada, Texas, and New Jersey had the next highest shares of illegal immigrants among their populations, with about 5%, 5%, and 5% respectively.
- California’s illegal immigrant population is more diverse than that of other states or the nation as a whole. California has a lower share of Latin American (71%) and Asian (13%) illegal immigrants than the national average. California also has a higher share of illegal immigrants from Asia (13%), than the national average of 78% and 9% respectively.
- California’s illegal immigrant population is more concentrated in urban areas than that of other states or the nation as a whole.
2023 Trends in Illegal Immigrant Population In California
- The illegal immigrant population in California has declined significantly since its peak in 2007, when it reached about 2.9 million. By 2019, it had dropped to about 2.3 million, a decrease of about 21%. This decline was sharper than the national trend, which saw a decrease of about 14% in the illegal immigrant population from 2007 to 2019.
- The main factor behind this decline was the reduction in the number of newly arrived illegal immigrants from Mexico, which fell dramatically after 2007 due to a combination of increased border enforcement, economic recession, demographic changes, and improved conditions in Mexico. As a result, more Mexican illegal immigrants left the US than arrived, and the average length of residence of this group increased.
- Another factor that contributed to the decline was the increase in the number of illegal immigrants who obtained legal status through various programs, such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS), asylum, or naturalization. These programs provided relief from deportation and work authorization to eligible immigrants who met certain criteria.
- The decline in the illegal immigrant population in California was also influenced by the shift in the origin and destination of new illegal immigrants. While most illegal immigrants in California are still from Latin America, especially Mexico, there has been a rise in the share of illegal immigrants from Asia, especially China and India. These immigrants tend to enter the US legally with visas and overstay their authorized period of stay. They also tend to settle in other states than California, such as New York, Texas, Florida, and New Jersey.
Contribution Of Illegal Immigrants To California
- Labor force: Illegal immigrants are an integral part of California’s labor force. In 2019, about 1.7 million illegal immigrants were employed in California, accounting for about 9% of the state’s total workforce. They also represented a large share of workers in some sectors, such as agriculture (11.5%), construction (6.7%), and tourism and hospitality (3.4%). Illegal immigrants tend to work in low-wage and low-skill occupations that are often difficult to fill by native-born workers.
- GDP: Illegal immigrants are a significant source of economic output and growth for California. In 2019, they contributed about $130 billion to the state’s gross domestic product (GDP), or about 6% of the total. This amount is larger than the GDP of some states, such as Nevada or New Mexico. Illegal immigrants also generate economic activity through their consumption of goods and services, which supports local businesses and creates jobs.
- Tax revenue: Illegal immigrants are a substantial contributor to California’s tax revenue at the federal, state, and local levels. In 2019, they paid about $9.8 billion in federal taxes and about $3.2 billion in state and local taxes. These taxes include income, payroll, sales, property, and excise taxes. Illegal immigrants also pay taxes indirectly through their employers or landlords who pass on the tax burden to them.
- Public services: Illegal immigrants are a limited user of public services in California, mainly because they are ineligible for most federal and state benefits and programs. For example, they cannot access Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, or cash assistance. They can only access emergency health care, public education, and some state-funded programs that do not require legal status. The cost of providing these services to illegal immigrants is estimated to be about $3 billion per year in California, which is less than the amount they pay in taxes.
Contribution of Illegal Immigrants to California’s Workforce
|Labor Force Participation|
|Civilian population ages 16 and older||2,624,000||100%|
|Not in the labor force||807,000||31%|
|Top Industries of Employment|
|Civilian employed population ages 16 and older||1,689,000||100%|
|Accommodation and food services, arts, entertainment, and recreation||256,000||15%|
|Professional, scientific, management, administrative, and waste management services||239,000||14%|
Challenges And Costs Of Illegal Immigration For California
- Education: Illegal immigration poses a major challenge and cost for California’s public education system, which serves a large number of students who are either illegal immigrants themselves or have illegal immigrant parents. In 2019, there were about 1.3 million K-12 students with at least one illegal immigrant parent, representing about 12% of the total enrollment. These students often face language barriers, poverty, and other disadvantages that affect their academic performance and require additional resources and support. The cost of educating these students is estimated to be about $14.4 billion per year in California, which is more than the entire budget of the state’s Department of Education.
- Health care: Illegal immigration also creates a significant challenge and cost for California’s health care system, which provides emergency and preventive care to a large number of uninsured and low-income illegal immigrants. In 2019, there were about 1.5 million uninsured illegal immigrants in California, representing about 40% of the total uninsured population. These immigrants rely on public hospitals, community clinics, and emergency rooms for their health care needs, which often results in uncompensated care and cost-shifting to other payers. The cost of providing healthcare to illegal immigrants is estimated to be about $4.6 billion per year in California, which is more than the entire budget of the state’s Department of Health Care Services.
- Criminal justice: Illegal immigration also entails a moderate challenge and cost for California’s criminal justice system, which deals with a number of crimes committed by or against illegal immigrants. In 2019, there were about 104,000 illegal immigrants incarcerated in California’s state prisons and local jails, representing about 13% of the total inmate population. These inmates committed various offenses, such as drug trafficking, violent crimes, property crimes, and immigration violations. The cost of incarcerating these inmates is estimated to be about $3 billion per year in California, which is more than the entire budget of the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
- Social welfare: Illegal immigration also involves a limited challenge and cost for California’s social welfare system, which provides some benefits and services to eligible illegal immigrants and their children. In 2019, there were about 1.8 million U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants in California, representing about 15% of the total child population. These children are entitled to various federal and state programs, such as food stamps, cash assistance, housing subsidies, and child care assistance. The cost of providing these benefits and services to these children is estimated to be about $3 billion per year in California.
Effects Of Illegal Immigration On California
- Demographic: Illegal immigration has transformed California’s demographic composition, making it one of the most diverse and multicultural states in the nation. In 2021, California had 10.5 million immigrants, representing 27% of the state’s population and 23% of the foreign-born population nationwide. Almost half (46%) of California children had at least one immigrant parent. Illegal immigration has also contributed to California’s population growth, although at a declining rate. In the 1990s, immigration accounted for 37% of the state’s population increase, but in the 2010s, it accounted for only 19%.
- Cultural: Illegal immigration has enriched California’s cultural diversity, bringing a variety of languages, religions, cuisines, arts, and traditions to the state. California is home to more than 200 languages spoken by its residents. The most common languages other than English are Spanish (29%), Chinese (3%), Tagalog (2%), and Vietnamese (2%). California also has a diverse religious landscape, with Christianity being the dominant faith (63%), followed by Judaism (2%), Buddhism (2%), Islam (1%), and Hinduism (1%). Illegal immigration has also fostered cultural exchange and integration among different groups, as well as challenges and conflicts over identity, assimilation, and discrimination.
- Political: Illegal immigration has influenced California’s political dynamics, affecting the outcome of elections, the representation of interests, and the formulation of policies. Illegal immigrants cannot vote, but they can affect the voting behavior of others through their social networks, advocacy groups, and public opinion. Illegal immigrants can also indirectly affect the allocation of political power through their inclusion in the census counts that determine congressional apportionment and redistricting. California has been a leader in adopting pro-immigrant policies that protect and support its undocumented residents, such as sanctuary laws, driver’s licenses, health care, and education benefits. These policies have generated controversies and conflicts with the federal government and other states over immigration enforcement and reform.
Immigration Laws And Programs In California
- Federal: The main federal laws and programs that affect illegal immigration include the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which defines the categories and criteria for admission, removal, and naturalization of immigrants; the Secure Communities program, which allows ICE to access fingerprints of individuals arrested by local law enforcement agencies and request their detention or transfer for immigration purposes; the 287(g) program, which allows ICE to delegate some immigration enforcement functions to specially trained local law enforcement officers; and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants temporary relief from deportation and work authorization to eligible immigrants who arrived in the US as children.
- State: The main state laws and programs that affect illegal immigration include the California Values Act (SB 54), which limits the cooperation and communication between state and local law enforcement agencies and federal immigration authorities; the TRUST Act (AB 4), which prohibits local law enforcement agencies from detaining individuals for ICE beyond their release date unless they have been convicted of certain crimes; the TRUTH Act (AB 2792), which requires local law enforcement agencies to inform individuals in their custody of their rights before any interview with ICE; the Dignity Not Detention Act (SB 29), which prohibits local governments from entering into new contracts or expanding existing contracts with private detention facilities; the Health for All Kids Act (SB 75), which extends Medi-Cal coverage to all low-income children under 19 regardless of immigration status; the California Dream Act (AB 130 and AB 131), which allows undocumented students to access state financial aid and scholarships for higher education; and the Repeal Alien Land Law Initiative (Proposition 13), which repealed a 1913 law that prohibited immigrants from owning land in California.
- Local: The local government has no authority or responsibility to regulate immigration or enforce immigration laws, but it can enact ordinances and policies that affect the services and protections for immigrants within its jurisdiction.
Controversies And Conflicts Over Illegal Immigration In California
- Economic: Illegal immigration has diverse economic effects on different stakeholders and interest groups in California. On the one hand, illegal immigrants provide a source of low-cost labor for employers in various industries, such as agriculture, construction, and tourism, and contribute to the state’s economic output and growth. They also pay taxes and consume goods and services, which support public revenues and local businesses. On the other hand, illegal immigrants compete with native workers for jobs and wages, especially in low-skill sectors, and impose costs on public services, such as education, health care, and criminal justice. These costs may exceed the taxes paid by illegal immigrants, creating a fiscal burden for taxpayers. The economic impacts of illegal immigration are unevenly distributed across regions, sectors, and groups, creating winners and losers.
- Social: Illegal immigration has complex social effects on different stakeholders and interest groups in California. On the one hand, illegal immigrants enrich the state’s cultural diversity and foster social cohesion and integration among different communities. They bring a variety of languages, religions, cuisines, arts, and traditions to the state, and participate in civic and community activities. They also face challenges and barriers to access social services, such as health care, education, and housing, due to their legal status, language proficiency, income level, and discrimination. These challenges may affect their well-being, health outcomes, educational attainment, and social mobility.
- Political: Illegal immigration has polarizing political effects on different stakeholders and interest groups in California. On the one hand, illegal immigrants mobilize political support and advocacy from pro-immigrant groups, such as civil rights organizations, labor unions, faith-based groups, and ethnic media. On the other hand, illegal immigrants provoke political opposition and resistance from anti-immigrant groups, such as nativist organizations, law enforcement agencies, conservative media outlets.
Gaps And Opportunities For Improving The Current Policies And Practices On Illegal Immigration In California
- Federal: Some of the possible areas for federal reform or improvement include: creating a pathway to citizenship or legal status for eligible illegal immigrants, especially those who arrived as children or have long-term ties to the US; reforming the visa system to better match the demand and supply of labor across different sectors and skill levels; enhancing border security and interior enforcement in a humane and effective manner; expanding legal avenues for humanitarian protection and family reunification; and cooperating with other countries to address the root causes of migration, such as violence, poverty, and corruption.
- State: Some of the possible areas for state reform or improvement include: expanding access to health care, education, and social services for immigrants regardless of immigration status; advancing protections for immigrant workers from exploitation, abuse, and retaliation; supporting immigrant integration initiatives that promote civic engagement, economic empowerment, and social inclusion; and monitoring and evaluating the implementation and impact of existing pro-immigrant laws and policies.
- Local: Some of the possible areas for local reform or improvement include: strengthening sanctuary policies that limit cooperation or communication with federal immigration authorities; increasing legal defense funds that provide financial assistance or pro bono representation to immigrants facing deportation proceedings; improving language access policies that ensure that immigrants have access to information and services in their preferred languages; and engaging community organizations that provide outreach, education, and advocacy for immigrants.