Our History

The International Institute of Los Angeles (IILA) began in 1914 as a response to the needs of women and girls immigrating from Europe and East Asia in adjusting to their new lives in Los Angeles.  Our founding was part of the larger revolutionary vision of a social welfare worker named Edith Terry Bremer, who established the first International Institute in New York in 1910. The International Institute movement was unique for its time in its philosophy and approach to this work. It embraced cultural pluralism by celebrating ethnic diversity and encouraging immigrants to maintain their native languages, traditions and folk cultures, while also becoming engaged US citizens who contribute to their communities. 

IILA has played a prominent role in every major refugee and immigrant wave since its founding. For over a century, we have offered a wide range of services to assist limited-English proficient and low-income individuals achieve self-sufficiency and thrive. Over time, we also expanded our services 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. We employ over 150 people in 13 locations in Los Angeles County and have a budget of over 20 million dollars. We also have a long history of employing newcomers, who serve as valuable team members who can provide culturally sensitive assistance to those in need.

Our commitment to upholding the dignity and supporting the self-sufficiency of refugees and immigrants is as unwavering today as it was at our foundingWe know that new arrivals bring a vibrancy and richness, as well as economic strength, to Southern California and the wider United States that is vital for our continued growth and success.

1910s to 1930s 

  • 1914: Founded to serve the women and girls coming from Europe and Asia in adjusting to life in the United States.
  • 1914-1915: Met Japanese “picture brides” at the harbor to offer assistance.
  • 1920s: Offered sewing and job training classes, employment counseling, and job placement assistance for immigrant women. Began cultural clubs beginning with French and English women to help new arrivals find community. 
  • 1922: National YWCA Department of Immigration and Foreign Born became the national organization for the International Institute. 
  • 1930-1932: Provided relief to immigrant communities through the Family Welfare Association during the Depression and employed women as teachers, club leaders, and office assistants.
  • 1936: The Council of Social Agencies approved incorporation of the International Institute as an independent agency.

1940s to 1950s

  • 1941: Opposed forced relocation and held meetings with leading citizens, organizations, and government officials to prevent the evacuation of Japanese Americans. 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.
  • 1945:  Assisted foreign-born brides of World War II veterans in understanding the changes they faced in their new cultural settings.
  • 1948: Helped refugees from Communist Bloc countries adjust to life in the United States through individual services and group activities via the Displaced Persons Act. 
  • 1953: Under the 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. 
  • 1956: Assisted with housing, employment, relief and social adjustment for Freedom Fighters of the Hungarian Revolution who were resettled in the Los Angeles area.

1960s to 1970s

  • 1962: Resettled refugees who came to Los Angeles fleeing the Cuban Revolution. 
  • 1971: Founded One-Stop Immigration Center after a federally funded project, Model Cities, provided funds to serve immigrants in Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, El Sereno and Cypress Park. 
  • 1974: Through a nutrition program for older new Americans 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. 
  • 1975: Developed 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. 
  • 1976: Initiated a family child care program and established the first child care center in City Terrace with 24 children. 
  • 1977:  Launched a federally funded supportive social services program for new refugees. 
  • 1978: Opened the International Senior Multipurpose Center. 

1980s to 1990s

  • 1982: Opened the Aliso Pico Multipurpose Center to serve the families living in the Aliso Pico housing projects. 
  • 1983: Established an Armenian Business Development and Training Center, a joint project with the Armenian Evangelical Social Services Center. 
  • 1986: Launched program to assist thousands in applying for legalization after the Immigration Reform and Control Act was signed into law, creating the legalization program and employer sanctions.  
  • 1993: Offered the Immediate Needs Transportation Program, initiated to provide transportation services to people in need in the wake of Los Angeles civil unrest in 1992. 
  • 1994: Opened El Rinconcito del Sol, an adult respite care program for Alzheimer’s patients in Boyle Heights.  Opened Fresno and Merced offices to provide refugee services to newly arriving Hmong refugees from Laos and Thailand. 
  • 1998: Launched $1 million job development program for people with limited English language skills. 
  • 1999: Initiated the Refugee and Immigrant Training and Employment (RITE) program in El Monte, Burbank, Van Nuys, and Lincoln Heights, providing case management and job placement for refugees and immigrants in Los Angeles County.


  • 2001: Purchased a commercial kitchen for the Child Nutrition Division to make and deliver thousands of meals each month. 
  • 2003: Launched a new School Readiness Initiative with First 5 LA to serve families in El Sereno. 
  • 2004-2005: Reopened two offices in Fresno and Merced to resettle over 1,100 Hmong refugees (the final group arriving from Thailand). Began initial outreach to assist victims of Human Trafficking. 
  • 2006: Opened an office in Glendale to help resettle religious minority refugees arriving from Iran. 
  • 2007: Began a Refugee Healthy Marriages Program to provide communication workshops for refugee couples and served over 200 individuals each year. 
  • 2008: 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 the TEAM Program, funded by the State CPUC, to educate limited English proficient residents on telephone services.  Opened three new childcare facilities. 
  • 2008-2012: 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. 
  • 2009: 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, which opened November of 2009.  


  • 2011: Secured a national grant to assist refugees with opening “micro-enterprise” in-home childcare businesses. Received grant for Post Release Services to help unaccompanied minors in need of legal and post-release social services. 
  • 2012: Began offering rescue and social services to survivors of human trafficking under the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants’ Trafficking Victims Assistance Program (TVAP).  Funded by South Bay Workforce Investment Board, started offering paid job training services to eligible low-income families.
  • 2013: Began services to undocumented youth who benefitted from Presidential deferred action (DACA).  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.” 
  • 2015: Led the entire national USCRI network in submission of Central American Minors (CAM) Program petitions to reunite youth with their relatives residing in Southern California. The first CAM case in the state arrived December 2015. (See photo left.)
  • 2016: Resettled over 700 refugees, the highest number of refugees in IILA’s history. 
  • 2017: Restarted Matching Grant Program to provide job placement assistance to newly arrived refugees. Executive Order 13769 went into effect, putting a halt on refugee arrivals. 
  • 2018: Joined the California Welcomes coalition. Five local non-profit organizations suspended resettlement services leaving IILA, IRC, and IRIS as the only refugee serving organizations in Southern California. 
  • 2019: Selected by Metro as a partner to administer the LIFE Program for the Southeast region. Awarded $50,000 grant by the Weingart Foundation to support IILA’s work. 


  • 2020: Partnered with the Public Health Institute and provided 1.5 million dollars in food subsidies to more than 1,700 LA County households impacted by COVID-19. Selected as partner by the California Department of Social Services to provide social services to unaccompanied youth under the Opportunities For Youth Project. Partnered with CDC Foundation to provide system navigation services to individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.  
  • 2021: Opened a satellite office in El Monte, CA. Partnered with Helen Keller International to provide free vision care services to low-income families.  The California Welcomes Coalition co-sponsored SB 1368 which included 8 million dollars to fund case management support for vulnerable populations. Started the Preferred Communities program to support the successful resettlement and integration of especially vulnerable refugees and other populations. 
  • 2021-2022:  Resettled nearly 900 Afghan newcomers after the fall of Kabul in August 2021. 
  • 2022: Began offering services to Ukrainian humanitarian parolees fleeing their homes in the wake of the Russian invasion of February 2022.