What We Know About DACA Recipients in the United States

A seventh-grade English teacher and DACA recipient works with her students in Denver, December 2014.

Two years ago, the Trump administration announced an end to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), leaving hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants in the dark. Despite President Donald Trump’s promise that he had “great heart” when it came to Dreamers, DACA recipients and their families face an uncertain future. Congress remains unable to enact permanent protections for them, and the U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to hear arguments in November to determine whether the administration’s rescission effort was unlawful.

The consensus is overwhelmingly clear: The American public is on the side of these young people and believes they should have the opportunity to remain here permanently and be put on a pathway to citizenship. DACA recipients grew up in the United States and have established their lives and futures in the country. Beyond that, they are contributing to the economy in ways that benefit the entire nation. Using the 2017 1-year American Community Survey (ACS), Center for American Progress analysis shows the many ways in which the 661,000 active DACA recipients are woven into the social and economic fabric of the United States. (see Methodology)

Two things that every DACA recipient has in common are that they arrived in the United States prior to turning 16 and that they have lived here since 2007. These things mean that most DACA recipients have spent the majority of their lives in the United States. CAP’s analysis finds that the average DACA recipient arrived in the United States in 1999, when they were just 7 years old. More than one-third of DACA recipients, 37 percent, arrived before age 5.

DACA recipients contribute to their communities and the economy

As DACA recipients have grown up in the United States, they have graduated from school, embarked on careers, and started families of their own. According to the CAP analysis of ACS microdata, nearly 256,000 U.S.-born, and thus U.S.-citizen, children have at least one parent who is a DACA recipient. Across the country, 1.5 million individuals live with a DACA recipient.

Researchers have documented countless ways that DACA has improved the lives of these young people. DACA has opened doors to higher education and job training programs, along with opportunities to pursue better-paying jobs that are more aligned with recipients’ long-term career goals. Many DACA recipients have also become civically and politically engaged, participating in actions related to immigrants’ rights and civil rights with the belief that they can make a positive difference in U.S. society.

And the reach of DACA extends beyond family and community to the economy more broadly. According to the CAP analysis of ACS microdata, while slightly more than one-third of DACA recipients are enrolled in school, those who are working are employed in a wide range of occupations. The largest occupation groups for DACA recipients are food preparation and office and administrative support at 66,000 workers each, as well as sales at 61,000 workers. Other notable fields include management and business occupations, in which 28,000 DACA recipients are employed; education and training occupations, with 16,000 DACA recipients employed; and health care practitioner and support occupations, with 27,000 DACA recipients employed.

These individuals work in different sectors of the economy too. According to the CAP analysis of ACS microdata, nearly 6,000 DACA recipients are self-employed in an incorporated business, while 25,000 work in nonprofit organizations and 22,000 work in the public sector.

Each year, DACA recipients also make major fiscal contributions to the economy. According to the CAP analysis of ACS microdata, DACA recipients and their households pay $5.7 billion in federal taxes and $3.1 billion in state and local taxes annually. In addition to this, DACA recipients boost Social Security and Medicare through payroll taxes. DACA recipients and their households hold a combined $24.1 billion in spending power—or income remaining after paying taxes—each year. (see Methodology)

As community members, DACA recipients make substantial rental and mortgage payments, much of which goes directly into their local economies. DACA recipients own 59,000 homes and are directly responsible for $613.8 million in annual mortgage payments. Rental payments are even more staggering: DACA recipients pay $2.3 billion in rent to their landlords each year. (see Methodology)

Conclusion

DACA has had—and continues to have—wide-ranging positive impacts that go beyond the lives of DACA recipients and their families. On the whole, the United States benefits from the social and economic contributions of DACA recipients. Allowing DACA to end would leave hundreds of thousands of young people unable to work lawfully in this country and expose them to the threat of detention and deportation. Not only would this be heartless, but it would also jeopardize the many contributions that DACA recipients make to U.S. society and the national, state, and local economies every day.

Methodology

The findings presented in this column are based on CAP analysis of 2017 1-year American Community Survey microdata, accessed via the University of Minnesota’s IPUMS USA. For the purpose of measuring the overall number of DACA recipients, this column uses the latest data filed as evidence in Regents of the University of California, et al. v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, et al.; the data are on file with the author. The data show 660,880 active DACA recipients as of June 30, 2019.

Household tax contributions and spending power estimates are based on methodology developed by New American Economy and include all households that contain a DACA recipient. The tax rates applied to the microdata come from the Congressional Budget Office and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Spending power is measured as household income after federal, state, and local tax contributions; these data are based on household incomes, which are available in the ACS microdata. 

The analysis calculates mortgage and rental payments for households in which a DACA recipient is the head of household or the spouse or unmarried partner of a head of household. Monthly payment information is aggregated from the ACS microdata.

Nicole Prchal Svajlenka is a senior policy analyst of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress.