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President Trump’s recent executive orders on immigration have grabbed headlines across the country, with individuals and communities anxious to understand whether and how these orders will be enforced and who will be affected. Much of the early attention focused on the order dictating a travel ban for citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and Libya. While the implications of this travel ban are of course significant for immigrants from these countries, only a small share of immigrants in California would be affected — an estimated 83,000 noncitizen immigrants from these countries were living in California in 2015, or approximately 1.6 percent of the state’s total noncitizen immigrants.

A much larger number of Californians are potentially affected by two other recent executive orders on immigration, which expand the definition of “criminal aliens” prioritized for deportation and mandate more aggressive federal action to enforce immigration violations. Undocumented immigrants, who include individuals who crossed the border undetected as well as those who have overstayed valid temporary visas, are the primary targets for these new enforcement policies.

The new executive orders do not change the laws about who can be deported (most undocumented immigrants are eligible for deportation), but they do change which immigrants are prioritized for deportation. Previously, federal immigration officials prioritized deportation of undocumented immigrants who had been convicted of serious crimes. The new policies expand priority for deportation to undocumented immigrants with any record of a chargeable criminal offense — potentially even without an actual conviction — and even if individuals have previously been granted a stay of deportation. Moreover, initial implementation guidance from the Department of Homeland Security emphasizes that “any individuals in violation of immigration law may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.” The new executive orders also authorize the hiring of additional immigration enforcement officers to intensify enforcement efforts.

Who are the Californians potentially impacted by these new enforcement policies? Although limited official data are available about undocumented immigrants, the size and some characteristics of the undocumented population can be roughly estimated by applying data analysis techniques to Census data for the broader immigrant population. Though these methods are by necessity imperfect, they offer the best estimates available for the undocumented immigrant population.

The best recent published estimates of the total number of undocumented immigrants in California range from 2.35 million to 2.60 million (as of 2014), or approximately 6 percent of the total state population. These individuals are deeply integrated into communities across California. According to published estimates* and California Budget & Policy Center analysis of Census data using similar data analysis techniques (all for 2014):

  • Roughly two-thirds of California’s undocumented immigrants have likely lived in the United States for 10 years or longer. As many as 30 percent of California’s undocumented immigrants may have been children when they arrived in the US, according to our estimates.
  • Most undocumented immigrants in California live in households that include US citizens or legal residents, according to our estimates. An estimated one-third are parents of US citizen children.
  • Nearly 1 in 8 of all school-aged children in California may have an undocumented immigrant parent.

Besides being integrated into families and communities throughout the state, California’s undocumented immigrants are strongly integrated into the state’s economy:

  • Undocumented immigrants may make up as much as 8 to 9 percent of all workers in California.
  • In some California industries — such as crop production, food services, and building and landscaping services — as much as 15 to more than 30 percent of the state’s workforce may consist of undocumented immigrants, according to our estimates.
  • The vast majority of undocumented immigrants in California — more than 90 percent by our estimate — are part of working households.

Fully implementing the more aggressive immigration enforcement policies stipulated in the Trump Administration’s recent executive orders will require substantially increased staffing, necessitating a hiring and training process for new immigration agents that will likely require significant time. As a result, a dramatic increase in enforcement activities in California and elsewhere is probably not imminent. Implementing the executive orders will also likely require significant new federal spending for staffing, processing, and the logistics of deportation — costs that are not accounted for in the orders. Furthermore, legal action could slow or halt enforcement in individual cases.

Nonetheless, even without an immediate increase in actual deportations, the new executive orders will likely have a sizable effect on families and communities. The increased fear of deportation — for oneself or a family member — may be expected to damage individual mental health, raise family stress levels, harm children’s school performance, and reduce worker productivity. Immigrants facing increased risk of deportation may also be more hesitant to access needed emergency services for themselves or their family members, and more reluctant to engage with law enforcement as victims of or witnesses to crime.

With more than 2 million undocumented immigrants believed to be residing in California — as well as potentially more than 2 million US citizens and legal residents sharing their households, according to our estimates — the new immigration enforcement policies could have a wide-reaching impact on California’s children, families, and economy.

—Sara Kimberlin

* Data sources for cited published estimates include Pew Research Center, Hispanic Trends; Migration Policy Institute; and Center for Migration Studies of New York. Additional estimates are from California Budget & Policy Center analysis of US Census, American Community Survey data for 2014 and 2015. For questions about data sources and analysis methods, contact the author at

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