Ending DACA Will Cost States Billions of Dollars

Andrea Aguilera, who has been able to get a work permit and avoid deportation through DACA, sits at a computer in Chicago on November 17, 2016.

Since June 2012, more than 752,000 people who came to the United States as children have benefitted from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. This initiative has provided recipients with a temporary reprieve from deportation and renewable work permits. DACA has lessened the barriers for these recipients to reach their full potential—they have been able to secure good jobs, obtain driver’s licenses, and pursue higher education—so that they might better contribute to their communities. A 2016 survey of DACA recipients shows that they work across many different industries ranging from educational and health services to nonprofits. Along with receiving higher wages, DACA recipients are buying cars, homes, and other goods and services to boost local economies.

But this quintessential embodiment of the American dream is under attack. During his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump threatened to end DACA, along with other executive actions. While it remains to be seen what specific actions the president-elect will take, the fate of DACA is still uncertain. But if the president-elect ends DACA, whether in a single action or by allowing work permits to expire over time, the end result will be hundreds of thousands of young people losing their work authorization and effectively being forced out of the labor market.

If DACA workers were to lose their work permits and jobs, the Center for American Progress recently estimated that the cumulative U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP, would be reduced by $433.4 billion over the following 10 years. Each state’s economy would also be negatively affected by the loss of workers, as DACA recipients are spread out across the country. For example, CAP’s latest estimates show that California—with an estimated 187,972 DACA workers—would suffer a GDP loss of $11.3 billion dollars annually if it were to lose these workers. Likewise, Texas would lose $6.1 billion annually, and North Carolina would lose $1.9 billion annually.

In December 2016, Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durban (D-IL) introduced a bipartisan bill called the Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream of Growing Our Economy, or BRIDGE, Act, to protect DACA recipients and DACA-eligible individuals from deportation. This is an important start, and Congress should take up the bill as soon as possible. Nevertheless, while the protections that the bill provides are important, it is still only a half measure and fails to provide a permanent solution for these young people that affords a path to citizenship and allows them to contribute even more to the country they grew up in.


U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, recently published estimates of the number of DACA recipients in each state from 2012 through September 2016. A 2016 survey of DACA recipients—conducted by Tom K. Wong, the National Immigration Law Center, United We Dream, and CAP—estimated that 87 percent of DACA recipients are in the workforce. Assuming that 87 percent of the DACA recipients in each state work, the author of the analysis estimated the number of DACA workers in each state. This analysis also assumes that the value added to the economy from DACA workers is similar to that from unauthorized workers.

A 2016 CAP report authored by Ryan Edwards and Francesc Ortega estimated the national and state-by-state GDP loss that would result from removing 7 million unauthorized workers from the workforce, broken down by industry. For this column, CAP used the authors’ estimates of the number of unauthorized workers in each state.

Using a combination of these estimates, CAP was able to estimate the annual GDP loss for each state if DACA recipient workers were removed from the workforce. For example, in California, if all 1,723,000 unauthorized workers were removed, there would be an annual GDP loss of $103.3 billion. As of September 2016, California had 216,060 DACA recipients. Assuming that 87 percent of them are currently working, California has 187,972 DACA workers—87 percent of its recipients. Therefore, losing its DACA workers would mean an annual GDP loss of $11.3 billion, found by dividing $103.3 billion by 1,723,000 and then multiplying by 187,972.

On the number of unauthorized workers, the new estimate of the number of unauthorized workers was provided by Ryan Edwards and Francesc Ortega who used data averages across the 2011, 2012, and 2013 waves of the augmented American Community Survey supplied by Center for Migration Studies, “Estimates of the Unauthorized Population” (2014). These data are described in Robert Warren, “Democratizing Data about Unauthorized Residents in the United States: Estimates and Public-Use Data, 2010 to 2013,” Journal on Migration and Human Security 2 (4) (2014): 305–328. Workers on active duty in the military are omitted.

Regarding the USCIS DACA data, this column uses an updated version of the data set used to estimate the national GDP loss estimate of $433.4 billion over 10 years. The September 2016 DACA USCIS report also includes two categories called “Missing” and “Not reported.” These two categories contain a total of 889 initial DACA approvals not tied to any of the states and thus not counted in CAP’s analysis.

Silva Mathema is a Senior Policy Analyst for the Immigration team at the Center for American Progress. She would like to thank Philip E. Wolgin and Ryan Edwards for reviewing the calculation and Tom Jawetz for his inputs.