How Many Illegal Immigrants May Be Eligible for a Future DACA?

By Jason Richwine on November 18, 2019

As the Supreme Court ponders whether President Trump can revoke his predecessor's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the problem that DACA was intended to address grows more difficult by the day. When President Obama initiated DACA in June of 2012, recipients needed to have been present in the United States for five years. As a result, illegal immigrants who were in the United States at the time DACA was announced but arrived as children after June of 2007 remain ineligible. More importantly, the federal government's continued failure to control illegal inflows has added many more childhood arrivals since 2012.

Number of Potential Recipients
of a New DACA Living in the
U.S. in 2017, by Arrival Year

Arrival Year Count
2007 (second half)1 46,597
2008 71,550
2009 64,060
2010 69,670
2011 66,299
2012 92,421
2013 102,132
2014 127,908
2015 142,562
2016 177,119
2017 (first half) 83,203
2017 (second half)2 102,742
Total 1,146,263

Source: CIS analysis of the 2017 American
Community Survey.

Potential recipients arrived before the age of 16
but after the existing DACA program's 2007 cutoff.

1 Estimate based on half the total for 2007.

2 Projected based on trends in border

As of 2017, we estimate that the United States has more than 1.1 million illegal immigrants who arrived before the age of 16 but are not eligible for the current DACA program because they arrived after the cutoff time. Data for 2018 and 2019 are not yet available, but rough projections (not shown in the table) suggest that the growth in childhood arrivals has accelerated over those two years. As these young illegal immigrants increase in number, the likelihood and scope of future DACA programs will increase as well.

Data and Methods

The table above is derived principally from the Census Bureau's 2017 American Community Survey (ACS). To determine which ACS respondents are most likely to be illegal aliens, CIS first excludes immigrant respondents who are almost certainly not illegal — for example, spouses of native-born citizens; veterans; people who receive direct welfare payments (except Medicaid for women who gave birth within the past year and for residents of certain states); people who have government jobs; Cubans (because of special rules for that country); immigrants who arrived before 1980 (because the 1986 amnesty should have already covered them); people in certain occupations requiring licensing, screening, or a government background check (e.g., doctors, pharmacists, and law enforcement); and people likely to be on student visas.

The remaining candidates are weighted to replicate known characteristics of the illegal population (population size, age, gender, region or country of origin, state of residence, and length of residence in the United States). CIS has previously used the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as the source of those known characteristics; however, DHS data were last published in 2015. For 2017 data, we use estimates from the Center for Migration Studies. Upon obtaining our weighted set of illegal immigrants, we simply tabulate them by age and year of arrival. The resulting figures are, of course, only estimates — not hard counts — but they are derived from the best technique we currently have for understanding the size and characteristics of the illegal population.

Additional adjustments are required for the first and last rows of the table above. Under DACA's terms, childhood arrivals from the first half of 2007 are eligible. Therefore, we halved the number of childhood arrivals from 2007 and reported it as an estimate for the second half of the year. In addition, since each ACS is based on the population as of July 1 of the survey year, data for 2017 arrivals are available only from the first half of the year. To estimate the second half, we modeled the relationship between our ACS estimates and border apprehensions of unaccompanied minors and individuals in family units. We found that the variance in border apprehensions can account for 80 percent of the variance in the ACS population of illegal childhood arrivals. Using the model, we generated a prediction of the ACS population in the second half of 2017.

Although not shown in the table, we also used the model to predict childhood arrivals in 2018 and 2019. Because border apprehensions have increased dramatically, so did the predicted number of childhood arrivals whom we would expect to observe in the ACS: 227,000 in 2018 and a remarkable 437,000 in 2019, according to the model. Unfortunately, we do not know whether the model holds in recent years. If border apprehensions no longer predict childhood arrivals as well as they did in earlier years, then these projections could be mistaken. Nevertheless, it is plausible that the pool of potential DACA recipients has grown enormously in the last two years, as the number of family units apprehended at the border certainly has.

Finally, please note that our count of potential new DACA recipients is limited to people who arrived at a suitably young age but are disqualified because they missed the arrival cutoff date of June 2007. In 2015, courts struck down President Obama's attempt to expand DACA by eliminating the maximum current age for qualification, which is 31. If a new DACA lifts the age limit for pre-2007 arrivals, the number of potential recipients would be even greater than reported here.