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Executive Action on Immigration: MPI Offers Estimates of Unauthorized Immigrant Populations that Could Receive Relief

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Originally written and posted by the The Migration Policy Institute, which is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. Learn more at

WASHINGTON — As the Obama administration contemplates executive action on immigration, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) today released estimates of various groups of unauthorized immigrants that could receive relief from deportation, either via deferred action or further refinement of immigration enforcement priorities.

The brief, Executive Action for Unauthorized Immigrants: Estimates of the Populations that Could Receive Relief, examines scenarios for executive action that have been publicly advanced by members of Congress, immigrant-rights advocates and others, describing scenarios that could be narrowly targeted to just a few tens of thousands of the nation’s estimated 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants or be expansive enough to reach several million.

Using an innovative methodology to analyze the most recent U.S. Census data to determine unauthorized status, MPI examines scenarios for expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that has provided a temporary grant of relief from deportation as well as eligibility for work authorization to more than 587,000 unauthorized immigrants who came to the United States as children, as well as extension of deferred action to other populations.

With respect to expansion of the DACA program, MPI finds that:

  • Eliminating the current education requirement (high school diploma or equivalent or current enrollment in school) would expand the DACA-eligible population by about 430,000. Last month, MPI estimated that 1.2 million unauthorized immigrant youth met all DACA eligibility criteria at the program’s announcement in June 2012. Eliminating the education requirement would bring the immediately eligible population to nearly 1.7 million.
  • Extending eligibility to those who arrived in the U.S. before age 18 (from the current age 16) would expand the population by about 180,000.
  • Moving forward the length of residence to 2009 (from the current 2007) would add about 50,000 youth.

Beyond DACA, the administration could grant deferred action to new populations. Among the possible criteria that MPI modeled are length of U.S. residence; close family ties to U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents or DACA beneficiaries; and/or potential eligibility for a green card as the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen. Excluding populations already eligible for DACA, MPI estimates that as of 2012:

  • 3 million unauthorized immigrants had lived in the U.S. for 15 years or more, 5.7 million for at least 10 years and 8.5 million for at least five years.
  • 3.5 million were the parents of U.S. citizens under age 18 — with 2.4 million of them having lived in the United States a decade or more. Including parents of children who are green-card holders or DACA recipients raises the total to 3.7 million.
  • 770,000 were the spouses of U.S. citizens. Including the spouses of green-card holders and DACA recipients nearly doubles this group to 1.5 million.
  • 1.3 million had qualifying immediate-relative relationships because they were spouses of U.S. citizens or parents of U.S.-citizen children ages 21 or over, but many are unable to depart the country to apply for a visa without facing years-long bars on their re-entry because of their cumulative unlawful stay.

Beyond deferred action, the Obama administration is said to be considering refinement of immigration enforcement priorities to limit the deportation of certain groups of unauthorized immigrants if they are apprehended by federal immigration authorities. While it is not possible to model future apprehensions and thus predict who might be affected by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) enforcement priorities, MPI analyzed 11 years of ICE removals data (for fiscal years 2003-2013) to determine how changes to current enforcement priorities could have affected past deportations, assuming removals were strictly limited to priority cases. Among the findings:

  • Narrowing the definition of “recent illegal entrants” to those apprehended within one year of entering the U.S. (currently the definition is three years) would have reduced removals by 232,000 during 2003-2013.
  • Excluding noncitizens convicted exclusively of traffic offenses (other than DUI) would have resulted in 206,000 fewer removals over the period. Excluding all non-violent crimes would have reduced removals by 433,000.
  • Foregoing deportation of those with outstanding deportation orders more than a decade old would have resulted in 203,000 fewer removals.

“Our work makes clear that the reach of potential changes to expand the DACA program or refine immigration enforcement priorities would be even greater if multiple changes were to be implemented at the same time — for example eliminating the DACA educational requirement and changing the age at arrival criteria,” said Randy Capps, MPI’s director of research for U.S. programs.

Said Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of MPI’s U.S. immigration policy program: “The length of residence required would be key to the scope of any new deferred action program: far fewer individuals would qualify under a program limited to people who arrived 10 or 15 years ago than a program without such limits.”
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