New DACA Survey Results Confirm Gains for Recipients, Highlight Risks of Uncertainty as Cases Head to the Supreme Court (The Torch)

New DACA Survey Results Confirm Gains for Recipients, Highlight Risks of Uncertainty as Cases Head to the Supreme Court

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Holly Straut-Eppsteiner
SEPTEMBER 25, 2019

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has provided approximately 825,000 immigrant youth with work permits and temporary protection from deportation since 2012. In September 2017, the Trump administration announced it was rescinding DACA’s availability, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) stopped accepting first-time applications for DACA (i.e., from people who had not previously received it) as well as renewal applications from anyone whose DACA was set to expire after March 5, 2018.

Fortunately, people who’ve already had DACA have been able to apply for DACA renewal as a result of nationwide injunctions issued by federal courts. Now, DACA’s future remains uncertain as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments this fall to determine whether the Trump administration’s termination of DACA is lawful or whether the courts even have legal authority to decide this question.


Over the past five-plus years, Tom Wong, associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, and director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center, has collaborated with the Center for American Progress, United We Dream, and the National Immigration Law Center to survey DACA recipients across the country. The latest findings from this year’s survey were released last Thursday.

Over the years, this survey has allowed us to learn more about the population of immigrant youth with DACA, including how DACA has impacted recipients’ educational and employment outcomes, their economic contributions, and their sense of belonging. In recent years, the survey has also measured how uncertainty surrounding DACA under the Trump administration is impacting recipients. For the first time this year, we also have data outlining recipients’ fears and concerns about the possibility of deportation if they were to lose the protections DACA affords. Findings from the 2019 survey confirm what we have now known for years: DACA helps recipients to thrive and contribute to their families and communities.

DACA provides recipients with greater mobility pathways through higher education and higher-quality jobs. After their DACA applications were approved, 71 percent of the sample pursued educational opportunities they previously could not pursue, and an additional 24 percent plan to pursue more education in the future. Since receiving DACA, more than half of recipients moved to jobs that better fit their education, training, and long-term career goals. Just under half reported moving to a job with better working conditions.

Moreover, this year’s survey again documented that DACA is associated with higher wages. The survey found that 57 percent reported getting a job with better pay after their DACA application was approved, with an average 86 percent increase in hourly wages. These gains are even stronger among recipients age 25 and older, who reported an average 128 percent gain in wages.

The 2019 survey results also reiterate that DACA recipients are woven into the fabric of their communities here. Our respondents’ average age of migration to the U.S. is 6 years of age, so DACA youth, on average, have lived most of their lives in the U.S. Most respondents (69 percent) do not have any immediate family in the countries where they were born. Yet 70 percent do have an immediate family member who is a U.S. citizen. Since being granted DACA, immigrant youth in our study have gotten driver’s licenses (80.2 percent), opened bank accounts (56.5 percent), and bought their first cars (59.5 percent) and even homes (13.6 percent). More than two-thirds of respondents reported feeling more like they belong in the U.S. and no longer afraid because of their immigration status since their DACA applications were approved. This complements other research finding that receiving DACA is strongly associated with gains in psychological wellbeing.

As DACA recipients grow older, they are forming their own families here in the U.S. Among respondents 25 and older, 27 percent have children. We know from other estimates that approximately 256,000 children in the U.S. have a parent with DACA. Unfortunately, the uncertainty surrounding DACA presents a source of constant worry for these parents. About three-quarters of parents in the study report thinking about being separated from their children about once a day or more, and close to that amount (72 percent) worry about not being able to see their children grow up because the parents may be deported. In fact, fears of enforcement are pervasive among the sample in general. About half of all respondents think about being deported at least once a day, and two-thirds worry about a family member being detained.

New findings also suggest what’s at stake for recipients who face the possibility of losing their DACA status and potentially being deported to the countries where they were born. According to this year’s survey, 93 percent of the sample indicated that if they were deported, they would be concerned, once arriving in their country of birth, about their or their families’ physical safety, access to health care or education, food security, or becoming homeless.

The results are clear. Providing even temporary protections to undocumented youth has resulted in substantial gains, for them and for the U.S. generally. Taking away DACA would mean denying DACA recipients opportunities for higher education, better quality jobs and, potentially, the ability to remain with their families in the country that has been their home for decades. It would also deny recipients a sense of and actual belonging in their communities and, in turn, deny those communities the economic, civic, and professional contributions that DACA recipients make in them every day.

Holly Straut-Eppsteiner is NILC’s Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow and research program manager.