Our History

Founded in 1914, as a branch of the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association), the International Institute of Los Angeles aimed to help immigrant women adapt to life in the United States. The Institute offered a place for immigrants to gather for special events and holidays in the courtyard (pictured here in 1932) to foster greater cross-cultural understanding.

For over a century IILA has offered a wide range of services to assist limited-English proficient and low-income individuals achieve self-sufficiency. In the 1960s, offerings were expanded to include a wide array of legal assistance, resettlement of refugees and asylum applicants, survivors of human trafficking, and free or low-cost child care and transportation.

black and white of IILA courtyard in Boyle Heights, CA

1910s to 1930s 

  • 1914: The International Institute of Los Angeles, part of the YWCA, was organized to serve the women and girls coming from Europe and Asia and “to assist the foreign communities in their adjustment to life in this country.”
  • Met Japanese picture brides at the harbor and helped them in their adjustment.
  • National YWCA Department of Immigration and Foreign Born became the national organization for the International Institute.
  • During the Depression, IILA provided relief to immigrant communities through the Family Welfare Association
  • The Council of Social Agencies approved incorporation of the International Institute as an independent agency.

1940s to 1950s

  • IILA opposed forced relocation and helped more than 1,500 Japanese Americans submit applications for certificates of identity and developed programs for education and social services in the Japanese relocation camps
  • After World War II, IILA helped resettle Soviet refugees under the Displaced Persons Act
  • Held meetings with leading citizens, organizations, and government officials in an attempt to prevent the evacuation of Japanese Americans.
  • World War II veterans brought foreign-born wives to this country. Institute workers helped brides understand the changes they faced in the new and different cultural settings.
  • The Displaced Persons Act allowed refugees from Communist Bloc countries to come to the United States. IILA helped in their adjustment through individual services and group activities.
  • East European Project begun by a Ford Foundation grant. Opened branch at 5058 Fountain Avenue for ex-Soviet Displaced Persons and provided vocational counseling, assistance in personal adjustment and social integration.
  • IILA resettled refugees who came to Los Angeles fleeing the Cuban Revolution.
  • Freedom Fighters of the Hungarian Revolution were resettled in the Los Angeles area. IILA assisted with housing, employment, relief and social adjustment.

1960s to 1970s

  • Senior Services program, funded by the California State Office on Aging, provided nutritious meals, social service information, referral and socialization for seniors in East Los Angeles
  • IILA began resettlement of South East Asian refugees in 1975
  • A federally funded project, Model Cities, provided funds to serve immigrants in Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, El Sereno and Cypress Park. Founded One-Stop Immigration Center.
  • Nutrition program for the Older New American, funded by the California State Office on Aging, provided nutritious meals, social service information, referral and socialization for low-income senior citizens in East Los Angeles.
  • Development of Van Nuys office to serve increasing number of Arabic-speaking immigrants in the area.
  • Began resettlement of Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles area in coordination with American Council for Nationalities Service and International Rescue Committee.
  • Initiated the Family Child Care program and established the first Child Care Center in City Terrace with 24 children.
  • IILA initiated a federally funded supportive social services program for new refugees.
  • Opened the International Senior Multipurpose Center.

1980s to 1990s

  • Opened the Aliso Pico Multipurpose Center to serve the families living in the Aliso Pico Housing Projects.
  • Established an Armenian Business Development and Training Center, a joint project with the Armenian Evangelical Social Services Center.
  • Immigration Reform and Control Act signed into law, creating the legalization program and employer sanctions. IILA launches program to assist thousands to apply for legalization.
  • The Immediate Needs Transportation Program was initiated to provide transportation services to people in need in the wake of the Los Angeles civil unrest in 1992.
  • Opened El Rinconcito del Sol, an Alzheimer’s adult respite care program.
  • Central Valley offices were opened to provide refugee services to newly arriving Hmong refugees from Laos
  • Launched $1 million job development program for people with limited English language skills.


  • Opened Adult Respite Care Program
  • Began Refugee Employment services in Glendale office–currently home to six refugee programs
  • Began Victims of Trafficking program through US Committee for Refugees & Immigrants
  • IILA launched new school readiness initiative called First 5 LA.
  • Began Refugee Employment Program funded at over $1 million by LA County to place refugees in jobs. Hired 25 new staff and opened new office in Glendale.
  • Initiated Refugee Healthy Families program with grant from our national office – US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. Refugees from Iraq war began arriving in greater numbers.
  • Began TEAM Program, funded by the State CPUC, to educate limited English proficient residents on telephone services.
  • The U.S. suffered the most severe financial crisis in decades, resulting in massive bailouts of corporations.  California suffers a protracted $42 billion deficit, resulting in many months of gridlock and freeze in payments to agencies contracted with the State, including IILA. In the succeeding years IILA advocated against attempts to completely eliminate various social safety net programs in California, including the entire welfare program “CalWORKS” and In-Home Supportive Services, and severe cuts to childcare.
  • IILA recognized by the U.S. House of Representatives and the California State Assembly for its work in childcare.
  • After producing 11 million child meals, IILA sold its Beverly/Union kitchen and two-flat building and launched construction of state-of-the art commercial kitchen at our Selig headquarters, opening in 11/09.
  • Received grant for Post Release Services to help undocumented minors in need of legal and social services.
  • Secured a national grant to assist refugees with opening “microenterprise” in-home childcare businesses.
  • Funded by South Bay Workforce Investment Board to place low income clients in jobs.
  • Families in Schools, an offshoot of First 5 Los Angeles, awards IILA $50,000 to support our work in our commercial kitchen as a “Social Enterprise.”
  • Begin services to undocumented youth who benefitted from Presidential deferred action (DACA).
  • Began Victims of Human Trafficking Program through the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.
  • IILA leads the entire national USCRI network in submission of petitions to reunite Central American youth with their relatives residing here.
  • 2017: The announced termination of DACA.
  • The Central American Minors program was suspended.
  • 2018: US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new “zero-tolerance” policy intended to ramp-up criminal prosecution of people caught entering the United States illegally. Soon afterward, immigrant parents traveling with children were being criminally prosecuted and separated from their children.
  • Implementation of a new policy that denied asylum protection for victims of gender-based or gang violence.
  • 2020: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center for Disease Control under the Trump administration issued a public health order allowing for the rapid expulsion of unauthorized border crossers and asylum seekers. As it is considered an “expulsion” rather than a “deportation”, the migrants are not afforded the right to make a case to stay in the U.S. before an immigration judge.
  • 2021: A federal judge ruled that DACA was unlawful.
  • The Biden administration begins undoing some measures implemented by Trump. There is a shift in enforcement priorities and some immigration cases have been dismissed.
  • Merrick Garland vacated the decision that denied protections for those seeking asylum from gender-based and gang violence.