Results from a Nationwide Survey of DACA Recipients Illustrate the Program’s Impact

By Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., @twong002; Kelly K. Richter, Ignacia Rodriguez, Philip E. Wolgin

July 9, 2015

SOURCE: AP/Alex Brandon

DREAMers and parents take an oath in a mock citizenship ceremony in Washington, D.C., on July 10, 2013.

In June, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program—which allows eligible unauthorized immigrants who entered the country at a young age to apply for temporary deferrals of deportations and work permits—marked its third anniversary. To date, roughly665,000 people have received DACA. A number of early surveys illustrate that DACA has improved the lives of its recipients, and economic impact analyses have found that wages rise as recipients gain work authorization, get jobs that better match their skills and training, and invest more in higher education.

Following up on these studies, the National Immigration Law Center, or NILC, the Center for American Progress, and Tom K. Wong of the University of California, San Diego, conducted a national survey to analyze the economic and educational outcomes of DACA recipients. The survey is part of a broader ongoing study by Wong called the Administrative Relief Impact and Implementation Study. The results add to a growing body of research that illustrates how DACA significantly affects recipients. (see Figure 1) A full 96 percent of respondents are currently employed or in school. Many are getting better, higher-paying jobs than they had before they received DACA. They are buying cars at high rates, and many are pursuing educational opportunities previously unavailable to them.


The survey is also one of the first to systematically quantify the wage effect of having deferred action. The data show that DACA has increased recipients’ average hourly wages 45 percent. Given that higher wages translate into more tax revenue and more economic growth, these findings suggest that DACA benefits all Americans.


The survey* was fielded online during June 2015 with a sample size of 546 respondents. Of these respondents, we can be confident that 467 are DACA recipients. Following the standards set forth by Wong and Valdiva in 2014, the survey included multiple features to enhance confidence in the validity of its findings. First, it included a unique validation test for undocumented status, which excluded some individuals from the sample based on their responses to questions about their immigration history. Moreover, no financial incentives for participation were provided; this was to further protect against responses from documented individuals. The survey addressed the issue of ballot stuffing, or one person taking the survey multiple times, by using a state-of-the-art online survey platform that prevents any single internet protocol, or IP, address from submitting multiple responses. The data were also checked for duplicate responses. While the survey utilized a peer-to-peer sampling strategy to identify DACA recipients, Facebook advertisements were also used in recruitment. This helped create a wider respondent base.

The survey respondents live in 34 states and the District of Columbia and have a median age of 22. Overall, 73 percent are female and 26 percent are male. The higher proportion of females is a recurring trend in online surveys of undocumented young people.

The vast majority of respondents—84 percent—identify as Hispanic/Latino, while another 9 percent identify as Asian, 2 percent identify as black, 2 percent identify as white, and 2 percent identify as other. Compared with the latest estimates of the DACA-eligible population, Hispanic/Latino respondents are slightly overrepresented in this sample. Nonetheless, given the demographic breakdown of approved applications—with 78 percent of DACA recipients born in Mexico and at least another 9 percent born in Central America**—the data likely track with the racial and ethnic distribution of the program.

DACA’s impact on employment

The survey finds that DACA has significantly helped recipients participate in the labor force. Seventy-six percent of respondents are currently employed, with an additional 20 percent not working but in school. As Figure 2 shows, after receiving DACA, 69 percent of respondents report moving to a job with better pay; 57 percent report moving to a job that “better fits my education and training;” and 54 percent report moving to a job with better working conditions.


DACA’s impact on earnings

Nearly two-thirds of respondents—62 percent—“have been able to earn more money, which has helped me become financially independent.” Additionally, 57 percent say that earning more money “has helped my family financially.”

As Figure 3 indicates, DACA has increased average wages 45 percent, moving from $11.92 per hour before receiving DACA to $17.29 per hour after receiving it. This means an average of $5.27 more per hour and a median increase of $4. Because the baseline hourly wage is modest, and many of these individuals are new to the labor force, even relatively small wage bumps result in large percentage increases.

The findings make clear that DACA has created a way for undocumented youth to find better-paying jobs. Future research will help better assess the short- and long-term nature of DACA wage effects as recipients gain more work experience and progress in their careers. Importantly, future research should identify whether short-run wage effects represent a plateau in earnings or whether an even more robust longer-run wage effect exists.


DACA’s impact on education

Overall, 65 percent of respondents are currently in school. Of these, 70 percent are currently working as well. As Figure 4 illustrates, the majority are pursuing undergraduate degrees, and 17 percent are pursuing advanced degrees. Ninety-two percent of the respondents who are currently in school say that, because of DACA, “I pursued educational opportunities that I previously could not.”


DACA recipients on the road

The survey finds that 89 percent of respondents have obtained a driver’s license or state ID for the first time after receiving DACA. Moreover, 21 percent of respondents report buying their first car after receiving DACA, with 26 percent buying a new car and 74 percent buying a used car. A full 96 percent of the people who bought a car have purchased auto insurance.

The average cost of car purchases in the sample was $22,559 for new cars and $9,607 for used cars. This matters for state revenue, as most states collect between 3 percent and 6 percent of the purchase price in sales tax, as well as registration and title fees. This added revenue comes in addition to the inherent safety benefits—to all Americans—of having more licensed and insured drivers on the roads.


These results help inform one of the central premises in the legal challenge brought by Texas and other states to the legality of the deferred action programs—the DACA expansion and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA—that President Barack Obama announced in November 2014. Texas claimed harm from DAPA because Texas charges less in driver’s license fees than it costs the state to issue them.

However, Texas did not take into account any of the new tax revenue that would accrue from people gaining deferred action: The survey data show that 33 percent of Texas respondents bought a car after receiving DACA at an average cost of $10,346. At a tax rate of 6.25 percent, this translates to an average state tax payment of $647 per car, not counting registration and title fees. Although one should take caution when extrapolating from a sample to a population, the findings are clear: Texas stands to gain significant amounts of new tax revenue from individuals who gain deferred action, get driver’s licenses, and buy cars.

Families of DACA recipients

The survey underscores the deep ties that DACA recipients have to U.S. citizens and illustrates the diverse legal statuses that members of the same family can have. Forty-five percent of respondents have siblings who are citizens, while 40 percent have a parent who is eligible to apply for deferred action under DAPA.


From new jobs and better earnings to more education and car purchases, DACA is having a major impact on individual lives. But it is only one piece of the puzzle: While up to 1.17 millionindividuals are currently eligible to apply for DACA, an additional 4 million or so people would be eligible to apply for the 2014 deferred action programs, which remain on hold in the wake of the Texas lawsuit.

Given DACA’s broad economic and societal benefits, allowing deferred action to move forward would reap even larger rewards. Deferred action provides only temporary protections, however, and a more permanent solution in the form of comprehensive immigration reform legislation—anchored by a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants—would yieldeven greater benefits and provide increased prosperity for all Americans.

* Author’s note: A codebook with the data results from the survey will be available on Monday, July 13. In the meantime, for survey data questions, please contact Professor Tom K. Wong,

** Authors’ note: 8.7 percent of applicants were born in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Figures for Nicaragua, Panama, and Belize are not available.

Tom K. Wong is an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego. Kelly K. Richter is the executive action policy fellow and Ignacia Rodriguez is the equal justice works fellow, sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, at the National Immigration Law Center. Philip E. Wolgin is the Associate Director for Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress.


AAPI Undocumented Immigrants in the U.S.

By Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., @twong002


This white paper identifies areas of need when it comes to outreach targeted at undocumented Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). Using an innovative method developed by Warren (2014) to estimate the characteristics of the undocumented population, this paper provides a national overview of the undocumented AAPI population, a state-by-state comparison of aggregate estimates, and a state-by-state comparison by national origin group, focusing on China, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Korea. This paper also uses factor analysis to identify 50 areas of need where the undocumented AAPI population in a place is characterized by low English language use, high poverty rates, and low educational attainment. I note here that this white paper is part of a larger collaborative project on the undocumented AAPI population. The results of this larger project are expected by the end of summer 2015.

Defining AAPI

Individuals self-identify their race and ethnicity on Census questionnaires. For example, individuals can self-identify as Asian with respect to race and non-Hispanic with respect to ethnicity. Whereas much focus has been paid to the “Asian alone” category, this paper uses a broader definition of AAPI which combines  “Asian alone,” “Pacific Islander alone,” Asian and Pacific Islanders who also identify as Hispanic (e.g., a person of Japanese ancestry born in Peru), and multi-race AAPIs.


The data used in this paper are the 2013 American Community Survey (ACS) Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) 1-year estimates. These data, which include over 3 million weighted individual observations, include “likely unauthorized flags per the Warren (2014) estimation method. The PUMS data combined with unauthorized flags permit the identification of areas of need at the Public Use Microdata Area (PUMA) level. A PUMA is a geographic area containing about 100,000 people. For example, while it is helpful to know how many undocumented immigrants live in Los Angeles County, because Los Angeles County is home to roughly 10 million people and covers just over 4,000 square miles, it is perhaps more helpful for outreach purposes to know how many undocumented immigrants live in Koreatown or in Rosemead. PUMA-level analyses provide this level of detail.


Nationally, there are an estimated 1,532,304 undocumented AAPIs. This represents 13.9% of the total undocumented population. Figure 1 shows the distribution of undocumented AAPIs across all PUMAs in the U.S. (states with less than 1,000 undocumented AAPIs are omitted).

  • An estimated 462,376 undocumented AAPIs are potentially eligible for DAPA. This represents 11.9% of the total estimated DAPA population.

  • An estimated 168,670 undocumented AAPIs are potentially eligible for DACA (original and expanded). This represents 11.1% of the total estimated DACA population.


Figure 1
The dark blue areas represent PUMAs with more than 500 undocumented AAPIs. The light blue areas represent PUMAs with between 250 and 499 undocumented AAPIs. The dark grey areas represent PUMAs with between 100 and 249 undocumented AAPIs. The light grey areas represent PUMAs with less than 100 undocumented AAPIs.


The top 5 states when it comes to undocumented AAPIs are the immigrant gateway destinations of California, New York, Texas, New Jersey, and Illinois. However, as Table 1 shows, a diverse set of states ranging from the Northwest (Washington) to the South (Georgia) round out the top 10.


Moreover, as Figure 2 shows, large estimated undocumented AAPI populations are highly correlated with the number of undocumented AAPIs that are potentially eligible for DAPA. In other words, states with large undocumented AAPI populations with minor variations are also states with large DAPA populations. The same trend holds true when looking at the relationship between the size of the undocumented AAPI population in a state and potential DACA eligibility. This provides some evidence to support state-level outreach strategies related to the President’s executive actions on immigration that use population size as a main determinant. However, we now have the ability to drill down more precisely within states and large counties.

figure2 Figure 2

r = .991. California omitted for data visualization purposes. r = .995 for DACA.

National Origin

China, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Korea (in order) currently represent the top 5 countries of origin when it comes to immigration to the U.S. from Asia. They also represent the top 5 countries of origin for the undocumented AAPI population. As Table 2 shows, India represents the largest national origin group among the undocumented APPI population, followed by China, the Philippines, Korea, and Vietnam. These countries combine to account for 81.9% of the total estimated undocumented AAPI population. Note: state-by-state and PUMA level breakdowns are available by national origin group.


Areas of Need

Recently released PUMA-level data provides important new insights about the size and the characteristics of the undocumented population. Using these data, I identify areas of need at the PUMA level, wherein the undocumented AAPI population is characterized by low English language use, high poverty rates, and low educational attainment. Whereas outreach to undocumented AAPIs can be a simple function of population size, these characteristics may be indicative of undocumented AAPI communities wherein targeted outreach related to administrative relief can be most impactful. I note here that different models can identify areas of need for the undocumented AAPI population more generally (e.g., exclude the number potentially eligible for administrative relief from the analysis). Moreover, additional models can be run that identify different sets of needs (e.g., include the number of undocumented AAPIs that do not have health insurance in the analysis). This analysis is intended to identify places that may not be the “usual suspects” in terms of outreach to undocumented AAPIs. Because this analysis relies on population estimates at small geographies, it should be seen as a complement to outreach strategies that use population size as a main determinant. Benchmarking the results of this analysis with local knowledge on the ground is, perhaps, the most effective way to utilize these data.

The following begins by estimating the undocumented AAPI population by PUMA for all PUMAs in the U.S., including their potential eligibility for administrative relief, the number of undocumented AAPIs that do not speak English well, the number of undocumented AAPIs that live at or below the poverty line, and the number of undocumented AAPIs that do not have a high-school degree or equivalent. Factor analysis is used to weight these characteristics and then index all PUMAs to a single score.


The top 50 areas of need are in 12 different states. California leads the way with 16, followed by New York with 11, and then Pennsylvania with 4. Moreover, the top 50 areas of need represent 19.0% of the total undocumented AAPI population, 20.4% of the undocumented AAPI population that is potentially eligible for administrative relief, 33.6% of undocumented AAPIs with language needs, 25.7% of undocumented AAPIs that are estimated to live at or below the poverty line, and 25.6% of undocumented AAPIs that are estimated to not have a high-school degree or equivalent. A list of all 50 areas of need is available here.