Just the FACTS

Undocumented Immigrants

  • California is home to more than two million undocumented immigrants.
    Undocumented (also known as illegal or unauthorized) immigrants are not directly counted in any representative national or state surveys. But the best estimates suggest that in 2013 California was home to about 2.67 million undocumented immigrants. Nationally, after a brief decline, this population has stabilized at approximately 11 million. Almost a quarter of the nation’s undocumented immigrants reside in California, where they make up slightly more than 6% of the state’s population.
  • Most undocumented immigrants are from Latin America.
    Nationwide, 79% of undocumented immigrants are from Latin America—a declining majority (52%) are from Mexico alone. Most of the others are from Asia—though Europe, Canada, and Africa account for hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Estimates for California suggest 68% of the state’s undocumented population is Mexican-born.
  • Undocumented immigrants often live with relatives who are citizens or legal residents.
    Nationally, nearly 40% of adult undocumented immigrants live with children (of any age) born in the U.S. Estimates suggest that 13% of California’s K–12 school children have an undocumented immigrant parent. A federal program, commonly known as Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (or DAPA), is for parents of citizens and legal U.S. residents. If implemented, it could move as many as one million of California’s unauthorized immigrants into a protected status.
  • Los Angeles County has the highest number of undocumented immigrants in the state.
    More undocumented residents (nearly 815,000) live in Los Angeles County than in any other area of the state, followed by Orange County (nearly 250,000), Santa Clara County (more than 180,000), and San Diego County (more than 170,000). The San Francisco Bay Area, Central Coast, and San Joaquin Valley have substantial populations of undocumented immigrants. And undocumented immigrants live in nearly every county of the state.
  • Undocumented immigrants live in every region of the state

    Figure 1

    SOURCES: Authors’ calculations using IRS tax data from the Brookings Institution, population data from the American Community Survey, and statewide undocumented population estimates from the Center for Migration Studies. Data from 2013.


    Counties with the largest undocumented immigrant populations, 2013

    Figure 2

    SOURCES: Authors’ calculations using IRS tax data from the Brookings Institution, population data from the American Community Survey, and statewide undocumented population estimates from the Center for Migration Studies. Data from 2013.

  • About one in ten workers in California is an undocumented immigrant.
    California’s labor force includes about 1.85 million undocumented immigrants—the second-highest statewide share of undocumented workers (9.4%) in the nation, after Nevada (10.2%). Undocumented immigrants work disproportionately in the farming, construction, production, services, and transportation/materials moving industries.
  • A large majority of Californians back a path to legal status.
    Since September 2013, the PPIC Statewide Survey has asked Californians five times if they favor "providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the U.S. if they met certain requirements including a waiting period, paying fines and back taxes, passing criminal background checks, and learning English.” Each time, 80% or more of California adults have supported this idea.

SOURCES: ACS data for 2013, Center for Migration Studies, Pew Hispanic Center, PPIC Statewide Survey.

Authors

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Laura Hill
Senior Fellow
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Joseph Hayes
Research Associate