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New Deferred Action Statistics May Hold Key Implications for Future Legalization

Theresa Cardinal Brown contributed to this post.

Last Thursday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released updated data on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. According to the new data, USCIS has approved over 550,000 applications, representing 86 percent of applications accepted for review. Based on estimates of the eligible population (see below), this accounts for more than half of DACA-eligible unauthorized immigrants.

Many have regarded implementation of the DACA program as a potential bellwether for any future legalization program, both in terms of participation and process.1 Others have analyzed why there is disparity of application rates among nationalities.2 Meanwhile, the administration continues to feel pressure from immigration advocates to extend DACA to other groups of unauthorized immigrants. As recently as last week, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson continued to stress that the administration is not leaning toward expansion, adding that they remain “careful not to preempt Congress in certain areas.”

Review of DACA statistics is important to evaluate any future legalization program, administrative or legislative. Based on the current application and processing rates under DACA, any future program would likely need an extended application period to allow for a majority of eligible applicants to apply and be processed.

Applications Received, Processed and Approved

USCIS data show a total of 673,417 requests for deferred action received by the agency as of March 2014, 642,685 of which were accepted for review. Among those accepted, 553,197 (86 percent) have been approved, while 20,311 (3 percent) have been denied and 69,177 (11 percent) remain pending.

Table 1. DACA Applications received and approved as of March 2014

Period Requests Recieved Cases Reviewed
Recieved Accepted Denied Pending Approved
FY 2012 157,792 152,420 150,733 1,687
FY 2013 443,963 427,602 11,151 94,806 472,378
FY 2014 (YTD) 71,662 62,663 9,160 69,177 79,132
Total 673,417 642,685 20,311 N/A 553,197

Source: Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Of the 553,197 applications approved to date, 427,653, or 77 percent, are originally from Mexico, with several other Latin American countries making up the remaining top 10 countries of origin of DACA approvals. California is home to the most DACA recipients, with 29 percent of the 553,197 approved. Texas, Illinois, New York and Florida follow with a combined 31 percent.

Table 2. Country of origin of DACA recipients

Country of Origin
(top 10)
Approved to Date
Number Percent
Mexico 427,653 77%
El Salvador 20,227 3.7%
Guatemala 13,301 2.4%
Honduras 13,223 2.3%
Peru 7,259 1.3%
South Korea 7,396 1.3%
Brazil 5,793 1%
Colombia 5,419 0.9%
Ecuador 5,149 0.9%
Philippines 3,644 0.6%

Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration ServicesTable 3.State of residence of DACA recipients

Table 3. State of residence of DACA recipients

(top 10)
Approved to Date
Number Percent
California 162,007 29%
Texas 88,106 16%
Illinois 30,982 6%
New York 28,414 5%
Florida 22,021 4%
Arizona 19,990 4%
North Carolina 19,883 4%
Georgia 17,356 3%
New Jersey 15,681 3%
Colorado 12,132 2%

Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration ServicesTable 3.State of residence of DACA recipients

Qualification and Renewal

Established in 2012 by the Obama Administration, DACA provides a renewable, temporary (two-year period) relief from deportation or removal to certain unauthorized immigrants who arrived in the United States as children (commonly referred to as DREAMers) and grants work authorization. DACA does not provide a path to legal permanent residence or citizenship.

To qualify for deferred action, unauthorized persons must meet the following criteria:

  • Unlawful entry period. Unlawfully entered before June 15, 2012, or overstayed visa as of June 15, 2012;
  • Age. Arrived before the age of 16 and be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012. Must also be at least 15 years or older to request deferred action;
  • Continuous residence. Continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007;
  • Education or military service. Currently enrolled in school, have graduated (or obtained GED) from high school, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
  • Criminal history. Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors.

At the end of the two-year deferred action period, recipients must apply for renewal—there is no automatic renewal. Beginning later this year, the first recipients of deferred action in 2012 will begin to reapply for extension. USCIS announced that it will release an updated DACA application and renewal form later this month. Once the new form is released, DACA recipients will be able to apply for renewal approximately 120 days before the expiration of their initial deferral period in order to avoid a lapse in their lawful presence.

Estimates of Eligible Population

Previous estimates have calculated that about 1.7 to 1.9 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States are potentially eligible for deferred action. In August 2012, Pew Hispanic Center estimated that 1.7 million of 4.4 million unauthorized immigrants under the age of 30 could potentially qualify for DACA, with 950,000 immediately qualified (met age and education requirement). In August 2013, the Migration Policy Institute estimated that up to 1.9 million unauthorized immigrants were potentially eligible, with 1.09 million immediately qualified. The new USCIS data indicates that somewhere between 51 to 58 percent of the estimated qualified population has been granted deferred action to date. However, the pool of eligible immigrants might have slightly increased in the past year as more came of age and met the education requirement.

So far, data on the DACA program could indicate that any future legalization program targeting an even larger pool of unauthorized immigrants (potentially up to 11 million) may require a significantly long application and processing period. A short or early filing deadline could lead to long processing delays and a higher rejection rate for incomplete or insufficient cases, as immigrants rush to assemble the necessary documentation. Without further resources, a short processing period would also increase pressure on the Department of Homeland Security to speed up its applicant review process to determine eligibility. A phased-in timeframe for filings would ensure both that eligible individuals had sufficient time to acquire necessary documentation but also allow the agency time to properly evaluate each case.

1 See, for example, Fenelly, Katherine,, “Preparing for Legalization: Lessons from the Literature and In-Depth Interviews on Preparedness for Immigration Reform in New York State”, the New York Immigration Coalition, December 2013, at

2 See Patrick Taurel, “Why Is There a Disparity in DACA Application Rates Among Different Nationalities?”, American Immigration Council, January 14, 2014, at:

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