Focusing on ways to better serve immigrants and give them a greater voice on a range of economic and social issues, local lawmakers, academics and nonprofit leaders gathered last week for the fourth Los Angeles immigration summit.
The two-day summit at the California Endowment in downtown Los Angeles focused on the findings of the Status of Immigrants in Los Angeles County 2023 report, which the USC Equity Research Institute published last Tuesday. It was organized in partnership with the California Community Fund and the Immigrant Inclusion Council, among other organizations.
The report found that the county has made historic investments in resources for immigrants, who now make up a sizeable portion of the county’s population. It also identified growth areas that policymakers and organizations should address to continue momentum.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass attended the event and said during the closing panel that her office intended to develop the office of immigrant affairs by focusing on language access, inclusion and the city’s older immigrants, growth areas highlighted in the report.
“There are a lot of other things we need to do as well,” Bass said. “I’m surprised at how much there is to do, but I’m ready to do it.”
Los Angeles County’s immigrant population is 3.2 million, representing more than a third of the total population, and 7.1%, or more than 800,000 people, have undocumented status, SOILA found. The county’s immigrant population has hovered above 30% since the 1990s, according to USC’s Immigrant Data Portal, but has declined slightly from 36% in 2000 to 34% in 2021.
Although immigrants exist among all ethnic and racial groups, the report found that Asian Americans and Latinos have the highest percentage of immigrants by group, at 57% and 43%, respectively.
In the report and at the summit, discussions highlighted the difference between Los Angeles’s increasingly welcoming policies toward immigrants and those of states like Florida and Texas, which have become more hostile, said Manuel Pastor, director of USC Equity Research. Institute.
“We’re trying to raise that contrast, but we also encourage Los Angeles to continue to lead on these issues and also think about where there are gaps,” Pastor said. “There’s a wide range of things we can do to really show our leadership.”
Several shortcomings must be addressed to ensure the inclusion of immigrants, the study found. Limited access to language and technology are issues facing many immigrant households: 28% of immigrants live in linguistically isolated households and 50% of undocumented immigrants do not have access to high-speed internet or a computer.
Barriers to employment, a lack of affordable housing and increased attention to diverse immigrant communities, such as LGBTQ+ and indigenous groups, are other factors that warrant addressing to ensure immigrants’ ability to thrive in the county, according to the study.
For Pastor, the high number of immigrants in the county and their economic contributions, as shown by SOILA, make the issue of inclusion “everyone’s business.”
Immigrants made up 40% of the county’s workforce in 2021 and contributed $10.4 billion in state and local taxes in 2019, according to the study.
“Our lives are affected by this,” Pastor said. “You may not be, you know, a member of the fifth of Los Angeles County who are undocumented or have an undocumented family member, but you have to believe that one of those people is a friend of your kids at school, someone who provided you eat in a restaurant or it is someone who takes care of your elder or your children”.
Investments and community work over nearly 20 years have begun to create a stronger infrastructure for immigrant inclusion in Los Angeles County, said Rosie Arroyo, immigration program officer for the nonprofit California Community Foundation.
Arroyo pointed to Represent LA, a program that has provided legal services to about 2,000 people in the county facing the threat of deportation. The project, which is a public-private partnership between the city and county of Los Angeles, the California Community Foundation and the Weinberg Foundation, has raised more than $40 million from a combination of philanthropy and government funding, she said.
“That is a great victory for our region,” Arroyo said. “And it’s very important because it shows the power of billions to promote more meaningful change in our community when we work across sectors, when we work together.”
Discussions at the Los Angeles immigration summit reflected these ongoing collaborations, as well as interest in expanding the scope of their work. More than 300 participants attended the event and participated in its many panels, which Arroyo said celebrated “our diversity, our culture, our experiences, and really working together and building a community” and a way to identify opportunities “on how we can continue to work together . ”
Along with Bass and Antonia Hernandez, president of the California Community Foundation, County Supervisor Hilda Solis participated in the summit’s closing panel and spoke about the importance of County District 1 leading citizens by example. Solis noted that immigrants are sometimes reluctant to access government services for fear of repercussions and urged nonprofits and the county to keep that in mind when developing solutions.
“We have to be flexible, and I think we have to do that through our actions and investments. So, it also means that you can’t just dictate it through policy,” Solis said. “You have to influence through cultural exchange, through funding and also by involving community organizations. Because I don’t do this job alone. We do it collaboratively.”