E.g., 10/04/2023
E.g., 10/04/2023
County-Level View of DACA Population Finds Surprising Amount of Ethnic & Enrollment Diversity
DACAtool 1

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides temporary relief from deportation for certain unauthorized immigrant youth based on factors including their educational attainment or enrollment has prompted many questions from educators, other practitioners, and policymakers as they seek to better understand the population that might be eligible.

Among the questions we have fielded at the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy since DACA’s launch in 2012:  “What can you tell me about the languages spoken by DACA youth in Los Angeles?” “How many children in Houston’s middle and high schools might qualify for deferred action?” “What is the number of eligible Asians in Queens?”

The answer to these questions, until now, was “not much.” We published national estimates of the population that could potentially qualify for DACA at the program’s launch, and again at its first and second anniversaries, but did not have more granular data available at the local level. Using an innovative methodology that imputes unauthorized status to the foreign-born population using U.S. Census Bureau surveys, we have created a new web tool that offers estimates of the size of the DACA population in 41 states and 111 counties. And beyond that, we have developed in-depth profiles of the DACA-eligible in the 25 states and 36 counties with the largest such populations.

So what have we learned?

We are only beginning to digest the county-level information, but several striking findings emerge.

 1. In many counties there is a surprising amount of ethnic diversity in the DACA population that is obscured at the national level.

The dominant—and correct—perception is that the vast majority of DACA-eligible youth are Latino. Across the United States, we estimate that 76 percent of the total potentially eligible population (those who are currently eligible or who could become eligible in the future) is from Mexico or Central America.

Looking more closely, however, several counties piqued our interest because they have a much higher share of Asian, South American, Caribbean, or African DACA youth than the nation overall. For instance, youth from Asian countries represent 31 percent of the potentially eligible population in Queens County, New York, compared to 10 percent nationally. In Broward County, Florida, the share of South Americans in the total DACA population (49 percent) is nearly ten times larger than the national average (5 percent). Among the 36 counties we profile, two—Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in suburban Maryland—had substantially higher shares of African potentially eligible youth.

Figure 1. Counties with High Asian, Caribbean, South American, and African Shares of the Population Potentially Eligible for DACA, 2008-12

Notes: The potentially eligible population includes all unauthorized immigrants who were under age 16 at the time of arrival in the United States, were under age 31 at the time of the survey, and had lived in the United States for at least five years. The Boston New England City and Town Area (NECTA) is a geographic entity defined by the U.S. Census Bureau for use as an alternative to counties in the six-state New England region. Miami represents Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

Source: Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from the 2008-12 American Community Survey and 2008 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) by James Bachmeier of Temple University and Jennifer Van Hook of The Pennsylvania University, Population Research Institute.

This diversity has important implications for DACA implementation at the local level. For instance, we know that nationwide, DACA application rates for Asian youth have lagged. Increasingly participation from this group may require targeted, linguistically, and culturally appropriate outreach.

2. A striking number of school-age children will “age in” to DACA eligibility—provided that they stay in school—in the years ahead.

“Future-eligible children” (those who were under 15 at DACA’s launch but met all other program criteria, including being in the United States since 2007) represent a large but often overlooked segment of the potentially eligible population. The size of this group—numbering 48,000 in Los Angeles County, California and 23,000 in Harris County (Houston), Texas— indicates that the task of assisting first-time DACA applicants is far from over. Due to their age range (ages 5 to 14), we can assume that most of these children were enrolled in elementary and middle schools in 2012.

Table 1. Children Eligible for DACA in the Future, Top 5 Counties, 2008-12

Sources: MPI analysis of Bachmeier and Van Hook data from 2008-12 ACS and 2008 SIPP.

DACA is inextricably tied to education, as applicants must have at least a high school diploma or its equivalent or be enrolled in school (or an adult education or workforce training program). Accordingly, the number of school-age children who eventually receive deferred action will depend, in part, on the success of local schools and districts in retaining and graduating immigrant students.  As the new school year gets underway, educators stand to play a vital role in ensuring that these children, approximately one-quarter of whom have limited English proficiency, are aware of DACA and have the linguistic, academic, and social support they need to succeed.

3. The share of immediately eligible youth enrolled in college differs widely across counties.

Among immediately eligible youth (those who met DACA’s education requirements and were ages 15-30 as of the program’s launch), 19 percent had completed high school and were enrolled in college (but had not yet completed a degree).However, disaggregating by county reveals wide variation in college attendance among DACA youth. At one end of the spectrum, this group comprised a substantially higher share (at least 25 percent of immediately eligible youth) in four counties: Kings (Brooklyn), New York; Alameda (Oakland), California; Boston, Massachusetts; and Santa Clara (San Jose), California. Meanwhile, we found low shares of college-enrolled youth in Maricopa (Phoenix), Arizona (12 percent); Dallas (15 percent); and San Bernardino (suburban Los Angeles), California (15 percent). These counties have the longest road ahead, in terms of integrating the DACA population into the economic mainstream, raising their college completion rates, and preparing for future legalization opportunities that—if based on previous versions of the DREAM Act—may require postsecondary education as condition for permanent legal residence and eventual citizenship.

As mentioned, we’re just starting to review the county-level data. We invite you to check out our DACA state and county data tool to examine local patterns.