SelfLawyer regularly publishes empirical portraits of U.S. immigration policy.
Our goal is to analyze trends in the immigration system, to explain policies underlying the immigration process, and to anticipate developments in immigration law.
This SelfLawyer portrait will focus on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
What is DACA?
DACA was established in 2012 by President Obama. The program was created as a stopgap measure to shield noncitizens who arrived in the United States as children (usually illegally with their parents) from deportation.
Protection under DACA lasts for a period of two years but can be renewed. The program does not change a recipient’s immigration status or create a pathway to becoming a lawful permanent resident (LPR) or a naturalized U.S. citizen.
There are approximately 700,000 beneficiaries, known as “Dreamers,” who receive a range of benefits from DACA. Among these benefits is the legal status to remain in the U.S., including the right to work and obtain health insurance. In some states, DACA recipients can obtain a state-issued driver’s license.
Through DACA, Dreamers qualify for in-state college tuition and state-funded educational loans and grants. Depending on where they live, they may also qualify for state-subsidized health insurance.
Who are Dreamers?
The data SelfLawyer obtained for this portrait reveals the following about Dreamers.
The Median Age for DACA Recipients Today is 26
The average age of a DACA beneficiary today is 26. The interquartile age range is between 22 and 29.
The Largest Percentage of Dreamers were Only 3 Years Old at Entry
There are More Female Dreamers than Male
Most DACA Beneficiaries are Single
Most DACA Recipients are from Mexico
A vast majority of DACA recipients are Latino, with Mexico being the birth country of some 80.34% of the entire DACA community. El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are the next three highest birth nations with 3.86%, 2.61%, and 2.4% respectively.
Most Dreamers Now Call California Home
A majority of DACA recipients, or some 28.48%, are living in California. Texas, Illinois, and New York follow with 16.49%, 5.25%, and 4.40%.
Los Angeles, New York, and Dallas Make the Top Cities for DACA Beneficiaries
Around 12.41% of DACA recipients live and work in the greater Los Angeles area. The New York region is second with 6.44%. The Dallas area is a close third with 5.39%.
Where is DACA Now?
On September 5, 2017, President Trump sought to end DACA, arguing that President Obama overreached his authority to create the program. Trump called upon Congress to replace DACA.
Trump’s order led to multiple lawsuits and a three-year long legal battle in the federal courts. It is a three-year battle that left some 700,000 DACA beneficiaries in limbo, uncertain if today would be the day or their deportation.
On June 18, 2020, the Supreme Court allowed Dreamers to breathe once again. In a 5 to 4 vote, the Supreme Court upheld President Obama’s executive action that created the program.
The majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., made clear that the decision was based solely on procedural grounds, and the Trump administration could make another attempt to end the program.
“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies,” the chief justice wrote. “We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.”
The justification the Trump administration gave for ending DACA was insufficient or, in legal terms, “arbitrary and capricious,” the Court’s opinion states.
President Trump responded with several angry attacks on the court via Twitter: “These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives.”
But producing further justifications, as the Court requires, and the looming legal challenges that will inevitably follow will take years to resolve. As a result, DACA will likely become a central issue in Trump’s 2020 reelection bid.
While the court’s decision was a blow to Trump’s attacks on immigration as a whole, it did not remove the uncertainty that DACA beneficiaries have lived with for years—the real possibility of being forcibly deported to a home country many cannot even remember.
As favorable as the Supreme Court’s ruling was to Dreamers, their jubilation was quickly shattered just a few hours later when Trump tweeted: “Now we have to start this process all over again.”
A battle in both the courts and the election booth is sure to follow.