President Donald Trump said he has “heard” varying numbers on the DACA population — from 650,000 to 3 million. In fact, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said there were 689,800 active DACA recipients as of Sept. 4, 2017.
DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was instituted in 2012 under the Obama administration and enabled certain individuals who had come to the United States illegally as children to avoid deportation proceedings and obtain work authorization for two years, subject to renewal. The Trump administration announced an end to the DACA program on Sept. 5, 2017, saying no new applications would be accepted and a “wind-down” would occur for current enrollees.
Congress is negotiating a deal on what to do about DACA before a March 5 deadline set by the president. A bipartisan group of lawmakers met with the president to discuss immigration on Jan. 9, and the following day, Trump said in a cabinet meeting that they had “agreed to pursue four major areas yesterday of reform: securing our border, including, of course, the wall — which has always been included, it never changed; ending ‘chain migration’; canceling the visa lottery; and addressing the status of the DACA population.” He then rattled off a few different numbers on the DACA recipients.
Trump, Jan. 10: We want to see something happen with DACA. It’s been spoken of for years. And children are now adults, in many cases. The numbers are very different, very varying. A lot of people say 800,000; some people said — yesterday, first time I heard 650 [thousand]. I also heard 3 million. The fact is, our country was such a mess, nobody even knows what the numbers are. But we’ll know what the numbers are.
Before we go through the numbers, let’s start with a summary of who was eligible: Applicants had to be at least 15 years old and prove that they were under the age of 16 when they came to the U.S., according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. They had to have been living in the country continuously since June 15, 2007. They had to be under age 31 and with no lawful status as of June 15, 2012, the day then-President Obama announced the DACA policy. Applicants had to be in school or have graduated or completed high school or have been honorably discharged from the military. Those with convictions of a felony, a significant misdemeanor or three or more other misdemeanors were ineligible.
Those who were approved didn’t gain lawful status, but they would not face any deportation proceedings for two years. The DACA status could be renewed, and enrollees could get work authorization. Obama instituted the program after Congress repeatedly failed to pass the so-called DREAM Act, which would have enabled those brought to the U.S. as children to eventually gain citizenship.
Republican attorneys general threatened to continue a lawsuit against the executive branch if the Trump administration didn’t rescind the 2012 DACA memorandum by Sept. 5, 2017. And that’s when the Trump administration announced a phase-out of the program.
Now, let’s look at the figures the president mentioned on the DACA population.
800,000 — This is the total number of people who have ever been approved for DACA since it was launched in 2012. Technically, the number is 798,980, according to figures from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Nearly 72,000 initial applications were denied.
689,800 — This is the total number of people who had DACA status as of Sept. 4, 2017, the day before the Trump administration ended the program, according to USCIS. Nearly 80 percent of the DACA recipients are from Mexico.
What happened to the rest of the cumulative DACA approvals? About 70,000 either didn’t renew or had their renewals rejected. And 40,000 became lawful permanent residents, obtaining green cards. As we mentioned, the DACA program didn’t provide a path to legal status, but as the Pew Research Center explains, those living in the country illegally can gain legal status “by marrying an American citizen or lawful permanent resident, obtaining asylum, or receiving certain types of visas such as those given to victims of a crime, among other ways.” A spokeswoman for USCIS, Claire K. Nicholson, confirmed to FactCheck.org that the 40,000 former DACA recipients applied for green cards after using what’s called “advance parole,” under which DACA recipients could get permission to travel abroad and reenter the U.S. legally.
1.3 million — Trump didn’t mention this number, but it’s an estimate of how many meet DACA criteria and could have applied, from the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.
3 million — We asked the White House press office where the president got this figure, but we haven’t received a response. We have identified two possibilities: The number could refer to a much larger group of immigrants who entered the country illegally as children, beyond those who were eligible for DACA; or it could refer to what Trump calls “chain migration” and a highly unlikely estimate of relatives current DACA recipients could some day sponsor, if those DACA recipients became citizens.
The Migration Policy Institute has estimated how many people could gain legal status under various DREAM Act-like legislation that was introduced in Congress in 2017. Those estimates range from 1.3 million to 3.6 million, with the latter being an outlier among the five bills. Under the “American Hope Act,” introduced by Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez, 3.6 million people would meet requirements for age at entry and time of residence in the U.S., and all of them would be eligible for legal permanent residence under the bill. But not a single Republican has co-sponsored that bill. The other four pieces of legislation, which have been either sponsored or co-sponsored by Republicans, would make an estimated 1.25 million to 1.7 million eligible for legal permanent residence, according to MPI’s analysis.
Or perhaps Trump was referring to claims about “chain migration.” For instance, last fall, Republican Rep. Dave Brat of Virginia said that the real number affected by DACA was 3 million or 4 million, claiming that each DACA recipient could, through green card status, end up sponsoring 3.45 family members for legal status. PolitiFact.com gave the claim a “false” rating.
Under such a scenario, all DACA recipients would have to find some way to gain legal status — which 40,000 have, as we explained. But with a green card, they could only sponsor a spouse or unmarried children, according to USCIS. One survey from a professor at the University of California, San Diego found that DACA recipients were 6-and-a-half years old on average when they came to the United States, and most were under 7. It’s highly unlikely many of them have spouses or children outside the country today. And to sponsor any extended family members, including parents and siblings, DACA recipients would have to become citizens.
To even get close to a 3 million figure, all 800,000 who once had DACA status would have to find a way to become citizens and then sponsor 3.45 family members on average.
MPI agrees that research has shown immigrants who gain legal status in the U.S. have then sponsored that many relatives on average. But DACA recipients are a distinct group. Michelle Mittelstadt, MPI’s director of communications, told us that her organization has estimated that those who were brought to the U.S. as children would sponsor on average one relative each over a lifetime. “[T]hese are people who entered the country as children, and so would 1) be quite unlikely to have children abroad; 2) would most likely marry someone already in the U.S.,” Mittelstadt explained in an email. Most also already have parents in the country or have siblings who are U.S.-born citizens, and could then sponsor the parents.
Some DACA recipients were able to renew their status just before or after the Trump administration announced an end to the program. But if Congress doesn’t act before the March 5 deadline, DACA authorizations will begin to be terminated at an average rate of 915 per day, MPI estimates, with the last of the authorizations ending in March 2020.