Summary: Immigrants

Spotlight on Key Indicators: Immigrants

Learn More About Immigrants

Bullying and Harassment at School
Family Income and Poverty
Student Demographics
Reading Proficiency
Why This Topic Is Important
Children who live with foreign-born parents represent a large and growing segment of the U.S. child population (1). In 2016, this group accounted for roughly one-quarter of all children in the U.S. and one-half of all children in California, which has the highest percentage of foreign-born residents in the country (2, 3). Most California immigrants are documented residents, and most children of immigrants are native-born U.S. citizens (1, 3).

Today's immigrant children are demographically diverse, and their educational and health status varies widely depending on factors such as place of origin, residence, and length of time in the U.S. (1, 4). Although immigrants are more likely to be employed than their U.S.-born counterparts, children with foreign-born parents are more likely than other children to live in poverty (1, 3, 4, 5). Children in immigrant families also are more likely to have parents with low educational attainment, to live in limited English-speaking households, and to be in fair or poor physical health (1, 4). It is therefore important for local and state government, schools, health care systems, and community organizations to address the needs of these children and families, support their strengths, and work to eliminate service barriers.
For more information on this topic please see's Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Woods, T., & Hanson, D. (2016). Demographic trends of children of immigrants. Urban Institute. Retrieved from:

2.  As cited on, Children living with foreign-born parents (65,000 residents or More). (2018). U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey.

3.  Johnson, H., & Sanchez, S. (2018). Immigrants in California. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved from:

4.  Child Trends Databank. (2014). Immigrant children. Retrieved from:

5.  Costa, D., et al. (2014). Facts about immigration and the U.S. economy. Economic Policy Institute. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
According to 2016 estimates, children living with at least one foreign-born parent accounted for 49% of all children statewide and 59% of children living in poverty. Although these estimates are similar to previous years, percentages vary widely at the local level. For example, an estimated 64% of children in Santa Clara County lived with foreign-born parents in 2012-2016, compared with 5% in Trinity and Tuolumne counties. Nationally, children with foreign-born parents made up roughly a quarter (26%) of the child population in 2016 and less than a third of all children in poverty (32%).

An estimated 11% of California children lived in limited English-speaking households in 2016, down from 15% in 2007. The percentage of children living in limited English-speaking households also varies at the county level, from less than 1% (Siskiyou) to more than 23% (Monterey) among counties with data in 2012-2016.

In 2016, an estimated 3% of California children ages 0-4, 6% of children ages 5-17, and 15% of young adults ages 18-24 were born outside the U.S. Since 2007, the percentage of foreign-born children ages 0-4 statewide has remained relatively stable while the share of foreign-born Californians ages 5-24 has declined.
Policy Implications
Children of immigrants are more likely to face poverty and barriers to health care and safety net services compared with children of native-born parents (1, 2). California has been a leader in supportive immigrant policies in recent years, with major legislation passed in 2013 and 2017 aimed at supporting better outcomes for children of immigrants, reducing health disparities, and helping foreign-born Californians participate in and contribute to society (3, 4). California also offers some benefits to undocumented and documented immigrants that would not be available under federal law, such as Medi-Cal for undocumented children (4, 5). However, enforcement of federal immigration regulations can have negative effects on children; e.g., the deportation of a parent or caregiver can cause psychological trauma, housing instability, and financial problems, which may have long-term adverse consequences for children’s health and development (6, 7).

While California has made many strides, much more work is needed, especially given the lack of an effective national immigration system and the uncertain future of federal immigration policy (4, 8). Leaders must continue working toward improved systems that prioritize the well being of vulnerable children, while also preserving the limited support currently available to immigrant families (4, 8, 9). In addition, future policy directions should take into account the contributions of immigrants, including their significant role in meeting current and future workforce needs and positive impact on long-term economic growth (1, 10, 11).

Policy options that could influence the well being of immigrant children and families include:
  • Promoting federal policy changes that include efficient pathways to citizenship and other legal statutes that promote family unity; these may include providing basic support and child welfare services to immigrant children and families (7, 8, 9)
  • Maintaining and effectively implementing California’s pro-immigrant policies, as state cooperation with federal immigration enforcement increases economic hardship among low-income children with foreign-born parents, with no benefit to children of native-born parents (3, 4, 6)
  • Supporting efforts to create a coordinated system for immigrant families that facilitates consistent access to medical homes with linguistically and culturally appropriate care, along with quality education, child care, interpretation, and legal services (8, 9)
  • Addressing the needs of dual-language learners in early childhood programs and English Learners in public schools through evidence-based resources and practices that engage families and take into account sociocultural influences on language learning (12)
For more information on this topic, see's Research & Links section or visit Urban Institute or California Immigrant Policy Center. Also see Policy Implications under English Learners on

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Woods, T., & Hanson, D. (2016). Demographic trends of children of immigrants. Urban Institute. Retrieved from:

2. Child Trends Databank. (2014). Immigrant children. Retrieved from:

3.  California Immigrant Policy Center. (2017). Legislative update - End of session 2017. Retrieved from:

4.  California Immigrant Policy Center. (2015). The California blueprint: Two decades of pro-immigrant transformation. Retrieved from:

5.  California Department of Health Care Services. (n.d.). SB 75 - Medi-Cal for all children. Retrieved from:

6.  Gelatt, J., et al. (2017). State immigration enforcement policies: How they impact low-income households. Urban Institute. Retrieved from:

7.  Capps, R., et al. (2015). Implications of immigration enforcement activities for the well-being of children in immigrant families: A review of the literature. Urban Institute & Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from:

8.  Linton, J. M., et al. (2017). Detention of immigrant children. Pediatrics, 139(5), e20170483. Retrieved from:

9.  Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum. (2015). Blueprint for a better America: Ensuring our immigration system advances the health and well-being of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and all immigrants. Retrieved from:

10.  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2017). The economic and fiscal consequences of immigration. Retrieved from:

11.  Myers, D. (2017). The new importance of children in America. Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health & Children’s Hospital Association. Retrieved from:

12.  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2017). Promoting the educational success of children and youth learning English: Promising futures. Retrieved from:
Websites with Related Information
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County/Regional Reports
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