Unauthorized immigrants covered by DACA face uncertain future
More than 750,000 young unauthorized immigrants have received work permits and deportation relief through the federal government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program since it was created by President Barack Obama, according to the latest data released by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. But they now must wait and see what becomes of the program under the Trump administration.
The program known as DACA was created through an executive action signed by Obama in August 2012.
It gives unauthorized immigrants who came to the U.S. before age 16 – a group sometimes called “Dreamers” – a chance to stay in the U.S. to study or work, provided they meet certain conditions such as being enrolled in high school or having a high school degree or GED equivalent, and not having a serious criminal conviction. Those approved for the program are given a work permit and protection from deportation for two years. Benefits can be renewed.
Since 2012, about 588,000 renewals have been issued, with more renewal requests likely to come as many current program participants see their two-year benefits expire. (The latest government data include all of fiscal year 2016, which ended Sept. 30, 2016.) For example, up to 512,000 unauthorized immigrants could be eligible to renew their benefits in fiscal 2017, which runs through Sept. 30.
About 1.1 million unauthorized immigrants are eligible for the benefits, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center estimate, which means that about 78% of those potentially eligible have applied to the program. The total reflects the number of applications during the life of the program, not the number of applications approved or immigrants currently receiving benefits.
Trump said he may create a way for those who have benefited from DACA to stay in the U.S., but he also made a campaign promise to undo all executive actions taken by Obama.
If Trump opts to undo the executive action that created DACA, the program could be immediately canceled – as he promised during the campaign – or it may be phased out by not allowing immigrants to renew their benefits when they expire after two years. Congress may also act to give “Dreamers” a chance to legally stay in the U.S. A bill backed by a group of Democratic and Republican senators would offer protection from deportation and a work permit for three years to those eligible for DACA benefits.
Several U.S. senators who support the bill represent states with some of the highest number of DACA recipients, including California, Illinois and Arizona. California alone has 216,060 initial DACA recipients, the highest in the nation, followed by Texas (120,642) and Illinois (41,256).
Unauthorized immigrants from Mexico make up three-quarters of all DACA recipients. Since the program started, 78% of approved applications – both initial (588,859) and renewals (456,108) – have come from Mexicans.
Jens Manuel Krogstad is a writer/editor focusing on Hispanics, immigration and demographics at Pew Research Center.