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By the Numbers: Every President Since Eisenhower Has Taken Executive Action on Immigration

President Barack Obama speaks at Northwestern University, October 2014.

Since Congress first passed a comprehensive immigration law—the Immigration and Nationality Act—in 1952, each of the 11 subsequent presidents, from President Dwight D. Eisenhower through President Barack Obama, have used their broad executive authority to address unanticipated situations affecting foreign nationals at home and abroad. These executive actions have filled gaps in legislation by permitting certain individuals to temporarily enter or remain in the United States when it serves the nation’s interests. They have protected people from specific countries—such as Hungarians and Cubans fleeing communism, Iranians fleeing revolution, Chinese nationals after the Tiananmen Square massacre, as well as Salvadorans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Nicaraguans after a hurricane. These executive actions have also addressed individuals who share attributes or possess common equities such as spouses and children of immigrants who received legal status under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and, more recently, DREAMers through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

Here are the numbers you need to know about the use of executive action to enhance the functioning of our immigration system:

39: The number of times U.S. presidents have taken executive action from 1956 through the present.

11: The number of U.S. presidents who have taken executive action on immigration. Every single president since President Eisenhower, regardless of political party, has used administrative action to shape immigration policy.

More than 600,000: The number of Cubans who fled the Castro regime between 1959 and 1972 and were admitted into the United States outside of the normal visa system.

1.5 million: The number of spouses and children of immigrants who had gained legal status under the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986 and became eligible for deferred action in 1990 under President George H.W. Bush’s “Family Fairness” policy.

580,946: The number of young people who have received DACA—the two-year reprieve from deportation that also grants a work permit—since the program began in 2012.

12.7 years: The median years of residence among the unauthorized immigrant population—up from 8.6 years in 2007.

More than one in three: The amount of unauthorized adult immigrants living with their U.S. citizen children.

$44.96 billion: The increase in payroll tax revenues that would occur over the next five years if President Obama granted deferred action to unauthorized immigrants who have been in the United States for at least five years.


The creation of the DACA program in 2012—the last significant use of executive action—gave 580,964 young people a significant boost, allowing them to use their skills and training to get better jobs, open bank accounts, apply for credit cards, pay taxes, and importantly, to work legally. A new executive action by President Obama to protect people who have been in the United States for many years and who have family ties in the country would benefit American workers and provide a much-needed boost to federal payroll tax revenue.

Only Congress can permanently fix our broken immigration system by passing immigration reform. But when President Obama takes executive action in the coming months—which he has promised to do by the end of the year—he will be continuing a 60 year-old bipartisan tradition of using presidential authority in service our nation’s immigration system.

Philip E. Wolgin is Senior Policy Analyst for Immigration at the Center for American Progress.