How immigrants fare will determine LA’s future, says USC researcher

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Manuel Pastor, director of USC's Equity Research Institute, speaks at the 2023 Los Angeles Immigration Summit. Photo courtesy of Lorena Alamillo.

Leaders from across the public, private, and philanthropic sectors are gathered in Los Angeles today and tomorrow for the fourth annual Los Angeles Immigration Summit, which organizers describe as a forum for advancing an immigrant-inclusive policy agenda for Los Angeles County during Immigrant Heritage Month.

Speakers include LA Mayor Karen Bass, LA County Board Supervisor Hilda Solis, Los Angeles City Councilmembers Eunisses Hernández

and Hugo Soto-Martinez, as well as USC Equity Research Institute Director Manuel Pastor.

Findings from USC’s “State of Immigrants in LA County 2023” are part of the discussions. 

Pastor says putting together a report reflecting the county’s diverse immigrant communities was “both a challenge and a delight.” 

The report finds that immigrants represented 34% of LA County and contributed $10.7 billion in state and local taxes, $20.8 billion in

federal taxes, and $83.8 billion in spending power in 2019. Despite immigrant contributions, the report says wages in the region remain an issue for all.

“A third of LA County are immigrants, and about 60% of our children have at least one immigrant parent,” says Pastor. “So how immigrants do is actually going to determine not just the current state of Los Angeles County, but its future.”

Pastor says local and state leaders have embraced many policies that serve immigrants, such as the creation of city and county offices of immigrant affairs. Recently, Pastor says, the county and the city have supported a defense fund for immigrants without documentation facing deportation proceedings.

Still, Pastor says there are policy shortcomings impacting immigrants. “Immigrants are affected like everyone else by the housing crisis. … They're affected by an economy that's underperforming and produces so many low-wage jobs. And immigrant communities have been especially hard hit by the COVID crisis and its aftermath.”

The report found that a lack of access to translators and interpreters is a huge obstacle for immigrants in public and private settings. More than a quarter (28%) of immigrant households are "linguistically isolated," according to the report. 

Odilia Romeo, executive director of Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo, (CIELO), a nonprofit organization serving Indigenous communities in LA, says they are particularly impacted.

“The biggest challenge that we face is that there is an assumption that everybody that comes from south of the border speaks Spanish,” says Romero, adding that CIELO and its partners have identified at least 17 Indigenous languages spoken in LA County. 

“During the pandemic, there was no information in Indigenous languages about what COVID was,” Romero says. “A lot of us work in the garment industry, in the restaurant industry, and during that time, so many people in our community lost their lives. They were isolated from any information of what COVID was.”

Romero will be speaking on a panel at the Los Angeles Immigration Summit on Wednesday at 10 a.m. The conversation, focusing on immigration through the lens of race and gender, will also feature speakers from trans, Black, and Arab American-led organizations.

A livestream of the summit is available on the website for the California Community Foundation, one of the event’s sponsors.

The summit will conclude on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. with a conversation with Mayor Karen Bass and LA County Board Supervisor Hilda Solis, moderated by Pastor, billed as “Moving Forward: A Commitment to Immigrant Angelenos.”

“What we're going to be asking our public officials … is to be mindful of the diversity, be mindful of the contributions, and be mindful of what the county and the city can do … not to just pat ourselves on the back about how we have a more welcoming attitude to immigrants than, for example, Texas, or Florida, but how do we actually have not just a welcoming attitude, but a situation in which immigrants feel empowered to make change, and immigrants are able to achieve their potential and their dreams.”