The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
October 5, 2017

Who are the active DACA beneficiaries, and where do they live?

October 5, 2017

Five years after the launch of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy (DACA), Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on September 5 that the policy would be rescinded. DACA began as an executive action by the Obama administration in 2012 that aimed to protect unauthorized immigrants from deportation who arrived as children and have lived in the United States for years. The policy also provides them authorization to work.

Nearly 800,000 immigrants, in their teens and 20s, have received DACA over the past five years. Those whose status is set to expire on March 5, 2018, had one month after Sessions’s announcement to renew. Today is that deadline. An estimated 154,200 people fit into that group. The other 535,600 cannot renew because their status expires March 6 or later.

Eighty-six percent of Americans support a long-term option for this group, such as the right to apply for legal status. Recent studies show the group of DACA beneficiaries have improved their lives through education and career advancement.

Congress is searching for a legislative solution. Knowing where DACA recipients live will be useful for policymakers working on this issue. Recently released data from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) sheds light on the demographic characteristics and geographic distribution of DACA beneficiaries.

Who will be affected by the end of DACA?

The new USCIS data show just under 700,000 people are identified as active, meaning their status has not expired or changed. As reported in the Washington Post, quarterly data regularly issued by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) show closer to 800,000 recipients. The count of active DACA beneficiaries does not account for those who had DACA but have had a change in status, have let their DACA lapse, or have left the country. These include about 40,000 people who became legal permanent residents (or green card holders) and just over 2,100 who had their status revoked by DHS.

DACA beneficiaries come from more than 150 countries. Beneficiaries born in Mexico are 79 percent of the total, but DACA recipients come from six continents and include countries as far as Australia, Indonesia, and Zambia, and as close as the Bahamas, Canada, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

Immigrants with DACA status are more likely to be women (52.6 percent) than men (47.4 percent), and on average, they are about 24 years old.

Where do DACA beneficiaries live?

Although DHS has published quarterly statistics on the states where DACA beneficiaries live, there has been a lack of solid statistics on substate areas for the past four years of the policy. These new data identify 88 areas.

Active DACA Recipients as of September 4, 2017


Source: USCIS DACA population data, “Approximate Active DACA Recipients,” Leading Core Based Statistical Areas, as of September 4, 2017.

The map above shows only places with at least 1,000 beneficiaries. The majority are metropolitan areas, but some micropolitan areas are included. These 88 areas contain just over 85 percent of all DACA beneficiaries. Another 12.6 percent are in areas with fewer than 1,000 beneficiaries. Less than 3 percent live outside metropolitan and micropolitan areas.

California (197,900) and Texas (113,000) have the most people with active DACA status. Together, the states account for 45 percent of all active DACA recipients. Five additional states each have at least 25,000 active DACA recipients: Illinois (35,600), New York (32,900), Florida (27,000), Arizona (25,500), and North Carolina (25,100). These seven states account for two-thirds of all active DACA recipients in the US.

Within California, 18 metropolitan areas account for 96 percent of current DACA beneficiaries in the state and 28 percent of the US total. Los Angeles accounts for 45 percent of California’s total, and 13 percent of the US total. Riverside–San Bernardino, just east of Los Angeles, has 22,300 DACA beneficiaries, representing 11 percent of the state's total. San Francisco and San Diego are home to 15,500 and 11,300 active DACA recipients, respectively.

Texas’s DACA beneficiaries represent about 14 percent of the nation’s total. The nine places shown on the map comprise 88 percent of recipients in the state. Dallas–Fort Worth (36,700) and Houston (35,800) each claim nearly one-third of Texas’s total, while McAllen and Austin are each home to about 7,500 beneficiaries (each about 7 percent of the state's total).

Download the data here.

Metropolitan areas outside California and Texas with high numbers of active DACA recipients include New York City with 47,200 people (nearly 7 percent share of total US recipients), Chicago with 34,100 (5 percent), Phoenix with 22,000 (just over 3 percent), Atlanta with 15,700 (just over 2 percent), and metropolitan Washington, DC, with 13,700 (2 percent). Miami and Denver round out the places with more than 10,000 DACA beneficiaries.

Large immigrant populations do not necessarily yield large DACA populations.

Some well-established immigrant gateways have fewer DACA beneficiaries than might be expected given their large foreign-born population. These include Boston, Miami, New York City, San Francisco, San Jose, and Washington, DC. These cities have a lower-than-average proportion of Mexicans. Because Mexicans make up 79 percent of all active DACA beneficiaries nationwide, it is not a surprise that in places where less than half of all immigrants are Mexican, the ratio of DACA beneficiaries relative to all immigrants is lower than expected.

Many places with more DACA applicants than might be expected given the proportion of foreign-born residents are in areas with relatively new immigrant settlement with large shares of Mexican immigrants (such as areas in Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, North Carolina, and Utah).

But some places with lower-than-expected shares of DACA recipients have a high proportion of their foreign-born population hailing from Mexico. El Paso, Texas; Laredo, Texas; San Diego, California; and Tucson, Arizona—all close to the US-Mexico border—fit this pattern.

Places with higher-than-expected DACA beneficiaries relative to the total foreign-born population are smaller areas, such as Elkhart, Indiana; Tyler, Texas; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and Yakima, Washington. These areas have high proportions of Mexican immigrants among their foreign-born population.

Although many perceive the immigration debate as taking place primarily at the federal level, decisions such as rescinding DACA have clear consequences for local areas. Much is at stake for the DACA beneficiaries who could lose the right to work, to secure in-state tuition, and to obtain drivers’ licenses, as well as for places that stand to lose tax revenue and other economic and social contributions from these people. As Congress seeks consensus on a legislative solution, it is important to keep in mind how these changes will affect places across the country.

Immigrants fill out forms for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), at a workshop on February 18, 2015 in New York City. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.


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