Working Papers

Where Are all the Immigrant Organizations?

Reassessing the Scope of Civil Society for Immigrant Communities


We examine the official scope and actual coverage of immigrant civil society in seven California cities using a widely-employed 501(c)3 database. First, to capture demographic under representation, we compare the number of immigrant organizations in official data to population statistics and find substantially fewer immigrant organizations than we would expect. Second, we measure the organizational undercount by calculating the number of publicly present immigrant organizations not captured in official data. We do this for four immigrant origin communities (Indian, Mexican, Portuguese and Vietnamese) using 160 key informant interviews and extensive examination of directories and media (ethnic and mainstream). We find a notable organizational undercount, which varies by city and immigrant group. Considering both underrepresentation and undercounts, Mexican-origin organizations seem at a particular disadvantage. Our findings have important implications for resource inequalities and advocacy capacity in minority communities, as well as for scholars’ ability to accurately document the vitality of immigrant civil society.