In reports published today by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, 70% of Latino and Asian immigrants said they perceived that immigrants in California experienced discrimination at work due to their skin color or accent.

The survey of 2,000 immigrants living in California also found that 65% felt — incorrectly in some cases — that immigrants would be prevented from gaining legal U.S. immigration status if they used government benefits such as income assistance, health care, food programs and housing aid.

The findings are laid out in two fact sheets: one focusing on immigrants’ negative perceptions of the immigrant experience overall in California and another that focuses on experiences with law and immigration enforcement. The reports are the first of a series to emerge from the Center for Health Policy Research’s Research on Immigrant Health and State Policy Study, or RIGHTS.

The reports focus on California because the state is home to one-quarter of the nation’s immigrants, and on Latinos and Asians because they make up the two largest groups of immigrants in the state.

“It’s critical for policymakers, community organizations and other stakeholders to understand immigrants’ experiences,” said Nadereh Pourat, associate director of the center and lead author of the report on perceptions of California immigrants’ experiences. “Those experiences can impact immigrants’ health and overall well-being, which in turn can contribute to health inequity throughout our state and the country overall.”

According to Pourat, previous research has found that aggressive immigration enforcement instills fear among immigrants.

That leads people to forgo needed health care and other important services, even in states such as California that support immigrant rights,” she said.

Negative perceptions in everyday life

Latino immigrants were more likely than Asian immigrants to report that they perceived that immigrants experience discrimination in the workplace, unequal access to health care, barriers to legal status and unsafe when calling the police for help; Latinos also were more likely to report that they generally saw immigrants as being at risk for being stopped by immigration officials while traveling.

Asian immigrants were more likely than Latino immigrants to perceive that immigrants were unsafe from immigration officials in their neighborhoods.

Experiences with law enforcement

Researchers also identified differences in immigrants’ experiences with law enforcement among residents of three regions: the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles and Southern California, and the San Joaquin Valley.

Immigrants living in the San Joaquin Valley reported more direct interactions with immigration and law enforcement than those living in the other two regions. For example, 17% of San Joaquin Valley residents said they had been racially profiled by law enforcement, compared to 14% in Los Angeles and Southern California, and 12% in the Bay Area.

According to the survey, more Latino immigrants (42% of respondents) than Asian immigrants (13%) said they personally knew someone who had been deported from the U.S. And Latino immigrants were more likely to say they had been racially profiled (16%) than Asian immigrants (10%).

“The data from the RIGHTS survey highlights the importance of understanding the range of experiences that immigrants have encountered under our state policies,” said Maria-Elena De Trinidad Young, an assistant professor at UC Merced and a faculty associate of the Center for Health Policy Research. “California has advanced many policy efforts to protect immigrants. Yet immigrants’ experiences are varied, and understanding their perceptions sheds light on the drivers of persistent health inequities in the state.”

Additional findings from the RIGHTS study will be published in the spring of 2022.