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DACA, by the Numbers

By Luc Schuster and Anise Vance

September 7, 2017



Number of people in Massachusetts with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. Roughly 6,300 of these live in the Boston area.


Share of DACA recipients who say they moved into a job with better pay after receiving DACA status, according to a national survey.


Extra annual tuition and fees a DACA student would have to pay to attend UMass Boston if DACA protection is removed (students with DACA status can pay in-state tuition in Massachusetts).


The number of states that provide in-state tuition for unauthorized students who attended and graduated from high schools in that state, regardless of DACA or other immigration status. Massachusetts is not one of these states.


Immigration is a force that has propelled economic and social progress throughout American history. Recently, immigrants have been especially central to Boston’s renaissance as a city. Boston’s population declined by 30 percent between 1950 and 1980, and this decline coincided with a slowing of our economy. A new wave of immigration helped reverse this trend, and now our economy is thriving. In fact, without immigration Boston’s population would be roughly the same today as it was in 1980.

At the national level there’s been an ongoing debate over how to modernize our immigration system. How many new immigrants should get legal status? From which countries? Should workers of different skill levels be treated differently (e.g., manual laborers versus nurses versus lawyers)? This lingering debate has not resulted in meaningful change, with both major attempts since 2000 to pass national immigration reform – the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act and the DREAM Act – having failed. In the absence of Congressional action, the Obama administration in 2012 issued an executive order—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—to provide baseline protections to a subset of unauthorized young people who came to the United States when they were young and who often have stronger roots in the U.S. than they do in their country of birth.

For details on how DACA eligibility works and on the Trump administration’s plan to end the program, please see the later sections of this brief.


The Migration Policy Institute estimates that roughly 1.3 million people are eligible for DACA. Of that, almost 800,000 have applied for and received DACA status. Because DACA is such a narrowly targeted program, DACA recipients are actually a small share of the roughly 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S.

Nationwide, about 800,000 people have received DACA status, a small share of the total unauthorized population.

United States

While a large share of eligible people has applied for DACA, not everyone has. According to the American Immigration Council, the primary reasons some DACA-eligible people decided not to apply were the $465 fee associated with the application, missing paperwork, legal concerns, and concerns about sending personal information to the government. Since President Trump took office, fears about the federal government’s use of personal information have become an even more significant reason for why many people who are DACA-eligible do not apply to the program.

Since the program’s inception, 7,934 people in Massachusetts have been approved for DACA status, the 19th largest number among the 50 states. Similar to the national picture, the DACA-eligible population represents a small share of the total unauthorized population in Massachusetts.

In Massachusetts, about 8,000 people have received DACA status, a small share of the total unauthorized population.


In Massachusetts, approximately 19,000 of the state’s 210,000 unauthorized immigrants are DACA-eligible.* Of those 19,000, Guatemalans, Brazilians and El Salvadorans are the three largest groups by nation of origin. 

The largest DACA-eligible groups in Massachusetts come from...

Nation of Origin   Estimated Size
 Guatemala  3,000
 Brazil  3,000
 El Salvador  2,000

Source: Migration Policy Institute

While we don’t have data on the number of DACA approvals in Boston, we do have estimates of the DACA-eligible population in the Boston area: approximately 15,000 in the Boston New England City and Town Area, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Given that the Boston area accounts for over three-quarters of the state’s DACA-eligible population, we estimate there to be roughly 6,264 DACA approvals in the Boston area.


In November 2012, Governor Deval Patrick announced that those who receive DACA status in the Commonwealth would also be eligible for in-state tuition at public community colleges and state universities. The difference between in-state tuition and out-of-state tuition is significant. In the 2016-2017 undergraduate academic year, in-state tuition (and mandatory fees) at the University of Massachusetts-Boston was $13,435 while out-of-state tuition was $32,023. At Bunker Hill Community College, in-state tuition was $576 while out-of-state tuition was $5,520.

In Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh’s Tuition Free Community College Plan, established this past year, also provides access to students protected by DACA. The Mayor’s Plan covers tuition and mandatory fees at Bunker Hill Community College, MassBay Community College and Roxbury Community College.


In part because DACA provides explicit work authorization and minimizes the likelihood of exploitation by employers, a national survey of more than 3,000 DACA recipients found significant work-related effects. The employment rate among respondents rose from 44 percent to 91 percent after receiving DACA status. And median annual incomes rose from $19,000 per year to $32,000 per year. Overall, 69 percent of those surveyed said they got a job with better pay after receiving DACA status.

DACA Recipients experienced better employment and income prospects

The survey also found that DACA improves educational opportunities and recipients’ general sense of belonging. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed were “pursuing educational opportunities that [they] previously could not” and almost 80 percent “had got [their] driver’s license for the first time” after their DACA application was approved.

Educational and Drivers License opportunities are greater with DACA


Created in 2012 by President Obama, DACA is a federal program that protects unauthorized immigrants, who meet particular criteria, from deportation for a period of two years. Those approved for the program also receive a work permit and may apply for DACA renewal when their two-year protection period comes to an end. People working with DACA status pay into the Social Security system even though DACA status is temporary and there is no guarantee that they will receive benefits when they are eligible. Additionally, immigrants protected by DACA are also eligible for state driver’s licenses, in accordance with particular state regulations.

Not all immigrants are eligible for DACA. Among other criteria, those approved for DACA status must:

  • have come to the U.S. at age 16 or younger;
  • be under 31 years old as of June 15, 2012;
  • have continuously lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007;
  • be currently in school, have a high school diploma or GED, or have been honorably discharged from the military;
  • have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors.


On September 5, the Trump administration announced its decision to end DACA over the course of six months. This decision will have enormous consequences for hundreds of thousands of people who will soon be left without work authorization and without protection from deportation. Fear of deportation is particularly high because DACA applications required disclosing extensive personal information that can now be used to find and deport DACA recipients once their protection period is over. Additionally, many DACA recipients will no longer be eligible for driver’s licenses or have access to public higher education at in-state rates.

While March 5, 2018, is the official end date announced by the Trump administration, this week’s decision will have immediate consequences for some people. Here are some examples:

  • Starting immediately, the government is no longer accepting new applications, meaning that people who were DACA-eligible but hadn’t yet applied cannot now apply. In Massachusetts, roughly 11,000 people fall into this category of DACA-eligible but not yet DACA-approved.
  • People who otherwise would have been eligible for DACA but who turn 15 years old after September 5, 2016 cannot now apply, even if they turn 15 before March 5, 2018.
  • Current DACA recipients whose protections are set to expire before March 5, 2018 are eligible to apply for one more two-year renewal but they need to complete this renewal application in a very short period of time: before October 5 of this year.

More than 200,000 people will have their DACA status expire sometime between August and December 2017. An additional 275,344 people will see it expire in 2018, and 321,920 people will have it expire between January and August of 2019.


States have significant leeway to determine what local supports to provide their residents, regardless of immigration status. Prior to the creation of DACA, for instance, advocates in Massachusetts had been pursuing state legislation that would allow unauthorized immigrants to get driver’s licenses and allow certain Massachusetts high school graduates to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.

Other states have already adopted freestanding legislation that encourages inclusivity regardless of immigration status. Currently 20 states offer in-state tuition to unauthorized immigrants who attended high school alongside their peers. Among those 30 states, seven also offer financial aid to students who are undocumented.  Due to concerns about public safety and economic integration, 11 states offer driver’s licenses to people regardless of immigration status (as of 2015). The Massachusetts state legislature could consider adopting similar legislation in the Commonwealth to partially restore the supports DACA recipients will soon lose.

* Please note that while the figures cited are the most current available, the figure for DACA-eligible people in Massachusetts is for 2014 and the figure for unauthorized immigrants in the state is for 2016.

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