CMS Estimates on DACA Recipients by Catholic Archdiocese and Diocese

Daniela Alulema and Mike Nicholson

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CMS Estimates on DACA Recipients by Catholic Archdiocese and Diocese

This paper provides estimates on beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) by Roman Catholic archdiocese and diocese (“arch/diocese”) in order to assist Catholic institutions, legal service providers, pastoral workers and others in their work with DACA recipients.  In addition, the paper summarizes past estimates by the Center for Migration Studies (CMS) about DACA recipients, which highlight their ties and contributions to the United States. It also offers resources for Catholic institutions, educators, and professionals that serve this group.

The DACA program, created by President Obama on June 15, 2012, provides temporary work permits and a reprieve from deportation to young immigrants who arrived in the United States as minors. Despite their deep roots in their communities, the future of the DACA program remains uncertain. The Trump administration attempted to terminate the DACA program in 2017. On June 18, 2020, however, the Supreme Court held that the Trump administration had unlawfully terminated the program. Although this ruling allows DACA recipients to continue to live and work lawfully in the United States, their status remains precarious, absent legislation that provides them a path to lawful permanent residence and citizenship.

CMS estimates that 1.02 million immigrants were eligible for the DACA program based on 2018 Census data. Yet US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reports there were only 649,070 active DACA recipients as of December 31, 2019.  In addition, thousands of undocumented immigrants who would have qualified for the program were denied the opportunity to apply because they had not reached age 15 when the Trump administration canceled the program. CMS estimates 61,000 immigrants that meet DACA eligibility criteria have turned 15 since the program’s rescission and should now be able to submit their initial DACA applications.

CMS has produced – rounded to the nearest hundred – estimates of DACA recipients by Catholic arch/diocese based on data from the US Census Bureau (full methodology below). In 2018, CMS estimates that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was home to 69,800 DACA recipients, the highest number of any arch/diocese in the country and almost 11 percent of all recipients. With an estimated 30,600 DACA beneficiaries, the Archdiocese of Houston-Galveston had the second-highest number of all arch/dioceses. The Diocese of Dallas, Archdiocese of Chicago, and the Diocese of San Bernardino round out the top five arch/dioceses with the largest numbers of DACA recipients –at 23,400, 23,100, and 21,000 respectively. Together, about 26 percent of all DACA recipients lived within these five arch/dioceses in 2018.  At least, 1,000 DACA recipients reside in 94 arch/dioceses (Table A).

DACA recipients are deeply invested in and contribute extensively to their US communities. A 2016 CMS study found that DACA-eligible immigrants enjoy high employment rates, long tenure in the United States, strong family ties, and high rates of English-language proficiency.  According to a profile developed by CMS based on 2017 Census data, 81 percent of DACA recipients have lived in the US for more than 16 years; 6 percent are married to US citizens; 4 percent are married to lawful permanent residents; and, 88 percent speak English well, very well, or only English. In addition, 83 percent of DACA recipients are in the labor force. Thousands are now serving as essential workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, 43,500 DACA recipients work in the health care and social assistance industries.

Organizations and individuals that serve and work with DACA recipients should continue to prepare proactively to ensure DACA recipients have the necessary resources and support. Advocates recommend that DACA recipients seek legal assistance to submit their renewal applications soon. Legal service and advocacy agencies have encouraged DACA recipients to seek legal assistance in submitting their renewal applications and to undergo screening to determine their eligibility for other immigration benefits, which might lead to permanent residence and US citizenship. Numerous resources are available to stakeholders that interact with DACA recipients. The website “My Undocumented Life,” for example, provides an exhaustive list of recommendations for educational institutions and educators to assist DACA recipients. The Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration offers an extensive FAQ for public and private colleges and universities to help undocumented students. FWD.US offers recommendations on how employers can support their DACA employees. The New York State (NYS) Youth Leadership Council, in collaboration with NYU School of Law Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, developed a guide to help non-citizens, including DACA recipients, navigate entrepreneurial options. The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc provides a repository of resources on DACA for legal service providers.


CMS calculated the below estimates on DACA recipients by arch/diocese using 2018 1-year American Community Survey (ACS) data. To arrive at these estimates, it first identified undocumented persons aged 16 to 38 in 2018 that met DACA eligibility requirements and were under age 16 when they arrived in the United States.[1]

CMS then used September 2019 administrative data on the number of DACA recipients by state from USCIS to randomly select individuals from the pool of DACA-eligible immigrants. Next, CMS calculated the number of DACA recipients in each arch/diocese by summing the number of recipients in each PUMA, or Public Use Microdata Area, within a given arch/diocese’s boundaries. All estimates are rounded to the nearest 100.

These estimates are weighted up to reflect the US population based on individual responses to the 2018 1-year ACS data.  Estimates less than 1,000 are not shown.  These estimates may have large margins of error, particularly in geographies with few respondents to the ACS.

Table A

[1] A description of how CMS estimates undocumented persons, as well as a discussion of the plausibility of its estimates, is provided in Warren (2014).

June 29, 2020