The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has had a profound effect on the lives of its participants, increasing the chances they find work and buy homes and cars. Most live in California, though participants are scattered throughout the US. The vast majority emigrated from Mexico.
All told, DACA has protected more than 800,000 young adults from deportation and allowed them to work legally inside the US. To apply, participants are required to be at least 15 years old and to have been brought into the country before age 16.
The program, established in 2012 by executive action by President Barack Obama, is now in jeopardy after President Donald Trump canceled it last year and put a stop clock on the protections enjoyed by people raised in this country.
In September, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that DACA would come to an end unless Congress passed legislation enacting it. His announcement stopped the program from accepting new applications and did not allow anyone whose permit expires after March 6 to re-enroll (the program requires re-enrollment every two years to keep a permit). There is also a fight over the program in the courts; in January, a federal judge temporarily blocked the administration’s plan.
Nearly 1,000 will lose their DACA enrollment every day in March once re-enrollment in the program is no longer possible. Congress has yet to find a permanent solution, although lawmakers from both parties have said they support a law to protect DACA recipients – otherwise known as Dreamers, named for one proposal, the DREAM Act, which would allow many children of undocumented immigrants to remain in the US and give them a pathway to citizenship.
This is what we know about participants in the DACA program.
1. Typical participants are in their mid- and early 20s and arrived in the US before age 10.
The average DACA participant is in their early 20s, according to data about DACA from US Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the Department of Homeland Security. As of September 2017, 36.7% of DACA recipients were between 21 and 25 and 28.5% were between 16 and 20. One requirement of enrollment in DACA is that the requester have been under age 31 as of June 15, 2012, which has kept the average participant age low.
A study – by University of California San Diego professor Tom Wong, immigration advocacy groups United We Dream and the National Immigration Law Center and the left-leaning Center for American Progress – on when DACA recipients arrived in the US found that the average arrival age was 6½.
2. Participants live throughout the US, but California is home to the most.
More than a quarter of DACA participants since the program started are California residents, according to 2017 data from US Citizenship and Immigration Services. More than 220,000 California participants have been accepted into the program.
Texas, New York, Illinois, Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, New Jersey, Georgia and Washington follow California in terms of the number of DACA recipients claiming the states as their residences.
3. About 80% are from Mexico, but recipients are from all over the world.
Nearly 80% of DACA recipients were born in Mexico, as of September 2017, according to US Citizenship and Immigration Services. But it’s far from the only country enrollees hail from.
More than 140 countries can claim to have been the places where at least 10 active DACA enrollees were born. The other nine of the 10 with the highest number of enrollees are mostly concentrated in Central and South America. Following Mexico, they are El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia and Argentina.
But also in the top 10 is South Korea, at sixth. Over 7,000 recipients were born there, or 1.1%. In 11th place is the Philippines, which is followed by India. The UK, Poland and Canada also are the birthplaces of high numbers of DACA recipients.
4. DACA has allowed many more to work. Many want to be entrepreneurs.
DACA enrollees are active participants in the labor force. The study by Wong found that more than 5% started businesses after DACA approval and 91% are working or in school.
But that wasn’t always the case. Wong found that 56% of participants were not employed before the program and 55% were able to get jobs once their DACA applications were approved. Sixty-nine percent got jobs with better pay after approval.
As one young DACA recipient, 23-year-old Daniela Velez, told CNN Money: “When I got my driver’s license, that was it. … I could have a normal life.” A report by CNN Money found that many DACA recipients are looking to become entrepreneurs and have used the freedom their DACA status granted to kick-start their careers.
5. DACA-eligible immigrants tend to be more highly skilled than other unauthorized immigrants.
A report by the Migration Policy Institute found that DACA-eligible immigrants tend to be more highly skilled than ineligible unauthorized immigrants. Their analysis found that “almost all individuals immediately eligible for DACA are students or workers, with one-quarter of them juggling both college studies and work.” When looking at the DACA-eligible population, they found many working in white-collar jobs. Their estimate found that the DACA-eligible workforce is in sales and office administrative jobs at rates comparable with those of the general population.
Part of the reason for the skill difference with other unauthorized immigrants is that DACA has a requirement that recipients must have a high school education or be enrolled in school.
Nonetheless, DACA-eligible recipients are, compared with the greater US population, less likely to have completed college diplomas. This is not that surprising, given that unauthorized immigrants are not always able to work in high paying jobs, so it may be another area where moving from DACA-eligible to DACA-enrolled makes the equalizing difference. Wong’s analysis found that 94% of DACA recipients said that after approval into the program, “I pursued educational opportunities that I previously could not.”
6. They tend to live in Democratic districts.
As an analysis by CNN’s Ryan Struyk found, the more Democratic-leaning a congressional district is, the more DACA recipients it is likely to be home to. Forty-one of the top 50 congressional districts have Democratic representatives.
As the showdown to fund the government plods on in the House and Senate, the lack of representation of DACA recipients by Republican House members will be a factor as the two chambers reconcile a bill.