New Brief from UCLA Data for Democracy Shines Light on Immigration

UCLA Centennial Initiative project shares research with students across Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is a community of immigrants. If you visit just about any public school in the region, you will find students who are immigrants and even more who were born here, but have parents or guardians who originally came from somewhere else. In Los Angeles County, more than half (57%) of young people have at least one parent or guardian that was born in a foreign country. From the earliest days of California, immigrants and immigration have shaped our lives and culture.  Today they enrich the fabric of our communities and will in great part determine the future of our city, our state and even our nation.

But who are the immigrants in our communities and where do they come from? What assets to they bring, what are the challenges they face and how do we as a community welcome and support them?

These and other issues are the topic of the newest UCLA Data for Democracy brief “Immigration in LA.”   Part of the UCLA Centennial Initiative celebrating the 100th anniversary of UCLA, the project gathers and shares research with K-12 students, teachers and schools across Los Angeles.  The briefs offer students and schools access to charts, graphs, maps and other information from UCLA research centers on issues that impact the lives of students and their families. Students also have access to an online tool called “Padlet” that offers the opportunity to share their ideas and work.

The newest brief on immigration offers resources to help students to examine the patterns of migration to California and Los Angeles and the legal issues related to immigration.  The brief also considers the school-based effects of national political rhetoric and national immigration policy and explores how youth civic action can welcome and support newcomers and foster democracy. Students are also invited to narrate their own stories of migration and share insights about the people, places, and practices that can make Los Angeles schools and neighborhoods welcoming for all. 

“Migration is our history. It’s a story of how Los Angeles came to be in its present form,” said Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Wasserman Dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies in an interview for the Data for Democracy brief. “We need to normalize immigration. Then, we need to acknowledge the enormous resources that immigrants bring to our society.”

The newest brief includes data representations examining patterns of migration to California and Los Angeles highlighting the percentage of foreign-born residents and where they come from, and offering historical perspective on migration to the state. The representations include an interactive map detailing how many immigrant families are in Los Angeles and where they live.  The brief also offers suggestions for student exploration such as comparing migration in different years or decades or charting the proportion of immigrants in the neighborhoods where they live. 

“The Welcoming Newcomers to LA brief has historical data that allows teachers to have conversations about the trends in the data over time,” said Megan Franke, a professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and co-leader of the Data for Democracy project. “Those trends can be discussed in relation to periods in history and the geography, policies and practices that influenced the them.” 

The brief also includes interviews offering insight and perspective about migration with Marcelo Suárez-Orozco and UCLA Professor of Education Carola Suárez-Orozco, who together with Professor Robert Teranishi, serve as co-directors of the Institute for Immigration, Globalization and Education at UCLA.

“We need to normalize migration. It’s part of the human experience. It’s part of the U.S. experience,” Carola Suárez-Orozco said in the interview for the brief. “What we have to do in schools is to create absolutely safe zones where talking about immigration is not something that is taboo, where it is a matter of fact, where it is part of our existence, and where teachers learn how to manage these conversations.”

There is also an important conversation with Nina Rabin, the director of the Immigrant Family Legal Clinic at UCLA Law School, exploring legal issues related to immigration and providing information on topics such as DACA, Sanctuary Cities and Asylum. There are also suggestions for students on how they can help to make our city more welcoming for immigrants.  In addition to the interview, there is also data detailing asylum decisions. In 2017, 90 percent of unrepresented asylum seekers were denied asylum.

Exploring the fear and uncertainty over immigration felt by many students, the new brief shares highlights of national research by UCLA Professor of Education John Rogers, examining the impact of national political rhetoric and immigration policy on students and schools.  In the survey, more than two-thirds of high school principals surveyed report that federal immigration enforcement policies and the political rhetoric around the issue have harmed student well being and learning, and undermined the work of their schools in general. The information includes analysis of the severity of the impact by region and community type. 

A goal of the Data for Democracy project is to engage young people in analysis and discussion of important social issues that affect their lives and communities and encourage them to take action to address challenges. In the final section, the brief considers actions to welcome and support newcomers and foster democracy.  In doing so, it draws on an interview with historian Caroline Luce of UCLA’s Alan Leve Center for Jewish Studies, who shares how high school students in the 1930s joined with adult activists to protest fascism and the Nazis. 

“Our hope is that students and teachers will read about how students across L.A. have been taking action to support immigrant families and share their own experiences,” Professor Franke said.

There is also an interview with Roosevelt High School graduate and immigrant rights activists Claudia Rueda who has advocated for gender and racial justice in California. 

“I was a really shy person and I didn’t know how to speak up as much,” Rueda says in the interview. “I learned slowly that my voice is important.”

“Immigration in LA” was created by the UCLA Data for Democracy Team in partnership the following organizations: The Institute for Immigration, Globalization and Education at UCLA; The David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy at UCLA; UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access; UCLA’s Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles; and the UCLA Alan Leve Center for Jewish Studies. CalMatters and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center generously provided the project with  permission to share their data.

UCLA Data for Democracy is one of four UCLA Centennial initiatives designed to expand public access to UCLA’s scholarly resources and build upon UCLA’s longstanding commitment of service to the community. Each one is a collaboration among multiple departments, centers, institutes and community groups.

Dive into the Data!

Join UCLA Data for Democracy co-leaders Megan Franke and John Rogers for a 30-minute “Data Dive into Issues Impacting our Communities,” February 13 or 24 at 3.30 p.m.  They will be discussing the finding of the new brief Immigration in LA.

Sign up for the webinar at