The DACA Era and the Continuous Legalization Work of the US Immigrant-Serving Community

Donald Kerwin
Roberto Suro
Tess Thorman
Daniela Alulema

Credit: antoniodiaz/Shutterstock

The DACA Era and the Continuous Legalization Work of the US Immigrant-Serving Community


The Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) initiated a study on the multi-faceted work of non-governmental and community-based organizations (NGOs and CBOs) and their public and private partners to implement the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and (more broadly) to build capacity to serve immigrants.

With support from the Open Society Foundation’s Emma Lazarus Fund II (OSF / ELF II), the CMS team interviewed more than 40 agencies and 66 individuals, and intensively analyzed the efforts of five communities to implement the DACA program. The CMS team found that immigrant service capacity has grown steadily over the last quarter century and advanced dramatically during the first four years of the DACA program.

Among other top-line findings and recommendations, the report concluded that:

  • A significant percentage of the US undocumented population is potentially eligible for an immigration benefit or relief, but does not know it (due to the complexity of US laws) or has decided not to pursue it for financial or other reasons.
  • Increased support to NGOS and CBOs to screen the undocumented would put large numbers of undocumented immigrants on a path to legal status, even without a change in the law.
  • DACA saw substantial growth in “whole of community” responses to immigrant service-delivery and community organizing: while the report covers a four-year period prior to the presidential election, the community responses developed during DACA could be mobilized in response to draconian enforcement policies.
  • Public education of immigrants, lawmakers, policy influencers, researchers, and the general public is crucial to effective community mobilization for legalization programs, as well as for defensive purposes: in particular, public education can inform the public on the benefits of government programs, protect immigrants from fraud and exploitation, enlist them in advocacy, and promote civic engagement.

The report was authored by: Donald Kerwin, Executive Director, Center for Migration Studies; Roberto Suro, Professor of Journalism, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, School of Policy, Planning and Social Development, University of Southern California; Tess Thorman, Master of Public Policy 2016, Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California; and Daniela Alulema, Administrative Coordinator, Center for Migration Studies.


Author Names

Donald Kerwin, Roberto Suro, Tess Thorman and Daniela Alulema

Date of Publication February 8, 2017
DOI 10.14240/cmsrpt0217