AAPI Undocumented Immigrants in the U.S.

By Tom K. Wong, Ph.D. tomkwong@ucsd.edu, @twong002


This white paper identifies areas of need when it comes to outreach targeted at undocumented Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). Using an innovative method developed by Warren (2014) to estimate the characteristics of the undocumented population, this paper provides a national overview of the undocumented AAPI population, a state-by-state comparison of aggregate estimates, and a state-by-state comparison by national origin group, focusing on China, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Korea. This paper also uses factor analysis to identify 50 areas of need where the undocumented AAPI population in a place is characterized by low English language use, high poverty rates, and low educational attainment. I note here that this white paper is part of a larger collaborative project on the undocumented AAPI population. The results of this larger project are expected by the end of summer 2015.

Defining AAPI

Individuals self-identify their race and ethnicity on Census questionnaires. For example, individuals can self-identify as Asian with respect to race and non-Hispanic with respect to ethnicity. Whereas much focus has been paid to the “Asian alone” category, this paper uses a broader definition of AAPI which combines  “Asian alone,” “Pacific Islander alone,” Asian and Pacific Islanders who also identify as Hispanic (e.g., a person of Japanese ancestry born in Peru), and multi-race AAPIs.


The data used in this paper are the 2013 American Community Survey (ACS) Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) 1-year estimates. These data, which include over 3 million weighted individual observations, include “likely unauthorized flags per the Warren (2014) estimation method. The PUMS data combined with unauthorized flags permit the identification of areas of need at the Public Use Microdata Area (PUMA) level. A PUMA is a geographic area containing about 100,000 people. For example, while it is helpful to know how many undocumented immigrants live in Los Angeles County, because Los Angeles County is home to roughly 10 million people and covers just over 4,000 square miles, it is perhaps more helpful for outreach purposes to know how many undocumented immigrants live in Koreatown or in Rosemead. PUMA-level analyses provide this level of detail.


Nationally, there are an estimated 1,532,304 undocumented AAPIs. This represents 13.9% of the total undocumented population. Figure 1 shows the distribution of undocumented AAPIs across all PUMAs in the U.S. (states with less than 1,000 undocumented AAPIs are omitted).

  • An estimated 462,376 undocumented AAPIs are potentially eligible for DAPA. This represents 11.9% of the total estimated DAPA population.

  • An estimated 168,670 undocumented AAPIs are potentially eligible for DACA (original and expanded). This represents 11.1% of the total estimated DACA population.


Figure 1
The dark blue areas represent PUMAs with more than 500 undocumented AAPIs. The light blue areas represent PUMAs with between 250 and 499 undocumented AAPIs. The dark grey areas represent PUMAs with between 100 and 249 undocumented AAPIs. The light grey areas represent PUMAs with less than 100 undocumented AAPIs.


The top 5 states when it comes to undocumented AAPIs are the immigrant gateway destinations of California, New York, Texas, New Jersey, and Illinois. However, as Table 1 shows, a diverse set of states ranging from the Northwest (Washington) to the South (Georgia) round out the top 10.


Moreover, as Figure 2 shows, large estimated undocumented AAPI populations are highly correlated with the number of undocumented AAPIs that are potentially eligible for DAPA. In other words, states with large undocumented AAPI populations with minor variations are also states with large DAPA populations. The same trend holds true when looking at the relationship between the size of the undocumented AAPI population in a state and potential DACA eligibility. This provides some evidence to support state-level outreach strategies related to the President’s executive actions on immigration that use population size as a main determinant. However, we now have the ability to drill down more precisely within states and large counties.

figure2 Figure 2

r = .991. California omitted for data visualization purposes. r = .995 for DACA.

National Origin

China, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Korea (in order) currently represent the top 5 countries of origin when it comes to immigration to the U.S. from Asia. They also represent the top 5 countries of origin for the undocumented AAPI population. As Table 2 shows, India represents the largest national origin group among the undocumented APPI population, followed by China, the Philippines, Korea, and Vietnam. These countries combine to account for 81.9% of the total estimated undocumented AAPI population. Note: state-by-state and PUMA level breakdowns are available by national origin group.


Areas of Need

Recently released PUMA-level data provides important new insights about the size and the characteristics of the undocumented population. Using these data, I identify areas of need at the PUMA level, wherein the undocumented AAPI population is characterized by low English language use, high poverty rates, and low educational attainment. Whereas outreach to undocumented AAPIs can be a simple function of population size, these characteristics may be indicative of undocumented AAPI communities wherein targeted outreach related to administrative relief can be most impactful. I note here that different models can identify areas of need for the undocumented AAPI population more generally (e.g., exclude the number potentially eligible for administrative relief from the analysis). Moreover, additional models can be run that identify different sets of needs (e.g., include the number of undocumented AAPIs that do not have health insurance in the analysis). This analysis is intended to identify places that may not be the “usual suspects” in terms of outreach to undocumented AAPIs. Because this analysis relies on population estimates at small geographies, it should be seen as a complement to outreach strategies that use population size as a main determinant. Benchmarking the results of this analysis with local knowledge on the ground is, perhaps, the most effective way to utilize these data.

The following begins by estimating the undocumented AAPI population by PUMA for all PUMAs in the U.S., including their potential eligibility for administrative relief, the number of undocumented AAPIs that do not speak English well, the number of undocumented AAPIs that live at or below the poverty line, and the number of undocumented AAPIs that do not have a high-school degree or equivalent. Factor analysis is used to weight these characteristics and then index all PUMAs to a single score.


The top 50 areas of need are in 12 different states. California leads the way with 16, followed by New York with 11, and then Pennsylvania with 4. Moreover, the top 50 areas of need represent 19.0% of the total undocumented AAPI population, 20.4% of the undocumented AAPI population that is potentially eligible for administrative relief, 33.6% of undocumented AAPIs with language needs, 25.7% of undocumented AAPIs that are estimated to live at or below the poverty line, and 25.6% of undocumented AAPIs that are estimated to not have a high-school degree or equivalent. A list of all 50 areas of need is available here.

UC San Diego Receives Grant for Groundbreaking Research in Global Health and Development

Claire Adida, UCSD Faculty Affliate at CCIS, is mentioned in UC San Diego News Article

June 9, 2015
By Christine Clark

The Policy Design and Evaluation Lab (PDEL), based at the University of California, San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS), announced today that it is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. PDEL faculty affiliates Claire Adida, assistant professor of political science in the UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences, and Jennifer Burney, assistant professor at GPS, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project titled “Mobile Money, Schooling, and the Poor.”

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California Leads Increase In Remittances To Mexico From U.S.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015
By Jean Guerrero

Teresa Gomez sends money to her mother in Mexico twice a month from San Diego. The 49-year-old migrated from Mexico more than two decades ago and is now a U.S. citizen.

“That’s what one does when one comes here: work, to take care of one’s family in Mexico,” she said.

Gomez contributed to the $5.6 billion in remittances sent to Mexico from the U.S. during the first quarter of this year. According to the Bank of Mexico, total remittances to Mexico increased five percent from the same period last year.

California sent more remittances than from any other U.S. state: $1.6 billion. Tijuana received $88.3 million in remittances – more than any other Mexican city.

Gomez said she was born in small Mexican town called Arandas in the state of Jalisco. Her 79-year-old mother still lives there with two of Gomez’s sisters. Her sisters help take care of their mother, but local salaries are low. One sister works as a dentist’s assistant for a weekly salary of 900 pesos, or around $60.

Working the cash register at a San Diego meat packaging plant, Gomez is able to send her mother $350 cash transfers twice a month.

“So she can survive over there in Mexico,” Gomez said.

Researchers said the increase in remittances is an indicator of a recovering U.S. economy. Immigrants are increasingly likely to find jobs north of the border.

David Scott FitzGerald, co-director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, said the job market for Mexican-Americans has especially improved in the construction sector.

“Immigrants are working more hours and have more money to spare for their families in Mexico,” he said.

The Mexican-American unemployment rate fell to 7.2 percent last year, compared with 12.4 percent in 2010, he said.

Another factor that may be contributing to the rise in remittances is the exchange rate. Dollars sent to Mexico are worth more today than they were several years ago. The dollar has strengthened against the peso to about 15 pesos to the dollar, from about 13 pesos to the dollar last May.

“Now is a great time to send remittances to Mexico,” he said.

The $5.6 billion in remittances from the U.S. makes up the majority of total remittances to Mexico, which reached $5.7 billion in the first quarter of this year. Other countries that sent remittances to Mexico included Canada ($21.7 million), Guatemala ($17.3 million) and El Salvador ($13.1 million).

The value of remittances from Texas was the second-largest among U.S. states at $764 million, followed by Illinois with $288 million.

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After Civil Rights by John D. Skrentny: Winner of Princeton University’s 2014 Richard A. Lester Award for the Outstanding Book in Labor Economics and Industrial Relations and Winner of 2015 Western Social Science Association Distinguished Book Award

AfterCivilRightsPic2By John D. Skrentny
Published 2013, 416 pages, hardcover

Purchase After Civil Rights »

What role should racial difference play in the American workplace? As a nation, we rely on civil rights law to address this question, and the monumental Civil Rights Act of 1964 seemingly answered it: race must not be a factor in workplace decisions. In After Civil Rights, John Skrentny contends that after decades of mass immigration, many employers, Democratic and Republican political leaders, and advocates have adopted a new strategy to manage race and work. Race is now relevant not only in negative cases of discrimination, but in more positive ways as well. In today’s workplace, employers routinely practice “racial realism,” where they view race as real–as a job qualification. Many believe employee racial differences, and sometimes immigrant status, correspond to unique abilities or evoke desirable reactions from clients or citizens. They also see racial diversity as a way to increase workplace dynamism. The problem is that when employers see race as useful for organizational effectiveness, they are often in violation of civil rights law.

After Civil Rights examines this emerging strategy in a wide range of employment situations, including the low-skilled sector, professional and white-collar jobs, and entertainment and media. In this important book, Skrentny urges us to acknowledge the racial realism already occurring, and lays out a series of reforms that, if enacted, would bring the law and lived experience more in line, yet still remain respectful of the need to protect the civil rights of all workers.