One Collateral Risk of Eliminating DACA: Angering an Important Pool of Voters

With the announcement last week that the administration planned to wind down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, much of the media attention turned to the roughly 800,000 young people who have received DACA status since the program’s creation in 2012. Brought to the country as children, these individuals often applied for DACA so they could gain a reprieve from deportation and the right to work in the country legally—or enroll in college or the military—for the first time. As NAE has reported, this group is already making major contributions to our workforce. In 2015, 90 percent of DACA-eligible individuals ages 16 and above were employed—a group earning $19.9 billion per year. They have higher entrepreneurship rates than U.S.-born residents of the same age group as well.

The Department of Homeland Security has already stopped accepting any applications from those applying for the program for the first time—even those turning 15 and just aging into eligibility now. And while those who are up for renewal within the next six months can still apply if they meet stringent deadlines, any DACA recipient whose status expires after March 5, 2018 will be unable to renew at all. With Congress given just six months to enact a legislative solution, the uncertainty about what comes next has already created considerable anxiety among Dreamers and their family members, not to mention the many employers and universities counting on them to work or enroll.

Many groups have come out to urge Congress to find a solution to protect Dreamers. This has included progressive activists, conservative leaders in Congress, faith leaders, university leaders, and business leaders from some of the nation’s largest companies like Apple, Verizon, Bloomberg, IBM, and Microsoft. These advocates have relied on both moral and economic arguments in favor of reform.

Beyond the moral and economic imperative of reform, there’s also a growing political one, which we explore in this brief. While DACA recipients themselves cannot vote, their citizen family members and friends can. As DACA recipients live in virtually every community and work in virtually every industry in the country, this pool of DACA-motivated voters is vast. In this brief, we explore just a small subset of it: The more than 2.5 million U.S. citizens who currently live with potential DACA holders, a group we define as either eligible for the DACA program now or soon to age into the program in the future. In addition to being afforded the same rights as all U.S. citizens, this population of U.S. citizens is also emerging now as an important force at the voting booth, a trend projected to only accelerate in coming election cycles.

To get a sense of how many people live with DACA-eligible individuals—a group including parents, spouses, children, close friends, and roommates—we turned to the 2013-2015 American Community Survey microdata, using a similar methodology NAE has employed before to identify the subset of Dreamers potentially eligible for the DACA program. (More details on our methodology can be found at the end of this brief.) Our work reveals that more than 1.4 million households in the country currently are home to at least one DACA-eligible individual. Of these, 72.4 percent are households that include at least one U.S. citizen. Altogether, this means that almost 2.5 million U.S. citizens were living with DACA-eligible immigrants in 2015 alone.

Figure 1: U.S. Households With At Least One DACA-Eligible Individual, 2015

    Figure 1: U.S. Households With At Least One DACA-Eligible Individual, 2015

    DACA-eligible households with U.S. Citizens DACA-Eligible Households with no U.S. Citizens
    Population 72.43% 27.56%

    Of course, not every U.S. citizen is currently a potential voter. Examining demographic characteristics, we estimate that more than 760,000 individuals living with DACA-eligible individuals were already eligible to vote in 2015. Additionally, more than 1.7 million were U.S. citizens who had not yet gained voting eligibility. In the vast majority of cases, we would assume these U.S. citizens are young people who have not yet aged into the electorate, such as the children or younger siblings of DACA holders. Many are children in households led by a DACA-eligible parent or their spouse. We know from basic household data that more than 600,000 U.S. citizen children were in that situation in 2015.

    Figure 2: Eligible Voters and U.S.-Citizens Living with Individuals Eligible for DACA, 2015

    Number Eligible Voters 763,154
    Total Number of U.S. Citizens 2,478,871

    While the national number of eligible and soon-to-be eligible voters is impressive, the figures gain more resonance when we break them down by state. California and Texas, the two states with largest undocumented populations, unsurprisingly have the largest numbers of eligible voters living with individuals who qualify for DACA. In 2015, California alone was home to more than 628,000 U.S. citizens who lived with at least one person who was DACA-eligible, including 230,000 who already had voting eligibility. In Texas, the equivalent figures were roughly 436,000 and 99,000, respectively. Although neither state is a swing state by any stretch, these numbers could potentially have relevance for close Congressional contests. In recent years, organizers have also focused on registering underrepresented Hispanic and Asian voters in Texas with the hope of eventually turning that state blue. A large population of voters motivated by Congress’s handling of the DACA issue could potentially make that task easier.    

    Figure 3: Number of U.S. Citizens and Eligible Voters Living with the DACA-Eligible in California and Texas, 2015

    Total number of U.S. Citizens Number Already Eligible to Vote
    Total number of U.S. Citizens Number Already Eligible to Vote
    Texas 436,145 99,633
    California 628,236 230,218

    The numbers, however, are particularly interesting when we drill down to the swing and purple states that are often critical in deciding elections. In 2016, a number of important states were won by fewer than 100,000 votes—including Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Nevada. Our analysis finds that all of those states—as well as several other prominent swing states—are currently home to thousands of eligible voters living with those who qualify for DACA. For instance, in Michigan, a state won by just 10,704 votes in 2016, 18,900 U.S. citizens live with members of the DACA-eligible population, 6,200 of whom are already eligible to vote. Similarly, both Florida and Nevada have more U.S. citizens living with DACA-eligible individuals than the number of votes that decided the 2016 presidential contest there. Florida, a state President Donald Trump won by 112,911 votes in 2016, boasted roughly 152,000 U.S. citizens living with DACA-eligible immigrants in 2016, including almost 63,000 eligible voters.

    Figure 4: Eligible Voters and U.S. Citizen Children Living with the DACA-Eligible in Key States, 2015

    Total number of U.S. Citizens Number Already Eligible to Vote Margin in 2016 Election
    Arizona 64,606 16,243 91,234
    Colorado 48,983 11,128 136,386
    Florida 151,943 62,803 112,911
    Michigan 18,901 6,261 10,704
    Minnesota 17,664 5,518 44,593
    Nevada 47,044 14,340 27,202
    North Carolina 81,613 11,105 173,315
    Pennsylvania 26,476 8,925 68,236
    Virginia 51,585 16,935 185,689
    Wisconsin 18,110 3,528 22,748

    Of course, the population of U.S. citizens living with DACA-eligible immigrants can hardly be counted as a monolithic voting bloc. Past NAE research has indicated that naturalized citizens, a group that likely makes up a healthy share of the population examined in this brief, have had particularly low levels of party identification, with about half reporting they do not identify as either Democrats or Republicans. Similarly, while the children and young family members of DACA holders may not have fully formed political beliefs today, they will obviously be profoundly shaped by what happens to those close to them in the weeks and months to come.

    In this way, the numbers detailed in this brief represent less of a threat to members of Congress wavering on this issue as an opportunity. The DREAM Act, which would grant undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children the right to earn citizenship if they meet certain conditions, already has widespread support among Americans of both parties, with 71 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of Americans who voted for Republican President Donald Trump in support of it in one recent Politico/Morning Consult poll. Bills to support the Dreamers also have strong support in Congress from both sides of the aisle: Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin co-sponsored one such bill introduced earlier this year. There is a broad and growing chorus of members of Congress of diverse ideological backgrounds calling for a legislative fix for Dreamers in the near term. The data here suggest that this economically smart policy solution may also be a smart political one.



    We use data from the 2013–2015 American Community Survey (ACS) to identify potential DACA-eligible persons. Due to the small sample size of DACA-eligible population in the one-year ACS sample, we pool the 2013, 2014, and 2015 data and use the average weight of three years to arrive at our final estimates.

    To start, we use the same approach our previous work has employed to identify undocumented immigrants from the U.S. Census microdata. This method is similar to the method used by Harvard economist George Borjas to impute undocumented status using several variables in the U.S. Census. As DACA recipients are legally allowed to work in certain occupations that undocumented immigrants cannot work in, we adjust our methodology here to reflect such differences between undocumented immigrants and the DACA-eligible population.

    To determine whether a person in the microdata has legal status in the United States, foreign-born individuals who reported naturalization are reclassified as non-citizens if the individual has resided in the United States for less than six years or, if married to a U.S. citizen, for less than three. In both of these cases, it would be virtually impossible to naturalize, making it likely such individuals misreported their status to Census officials. After reclassifying those individuals, we then consider the entire pool of non-naturalized immigrants as potentially undocumented. Using the following criteria, we then remove individuals from the pool who are highly likely to have legal status:

    • Arrived in the United States before 1980;
    • Citizens and children less than 18 years old reporting at least one U.S.-born parent;
    • Spouses of natural born citizens, or naturalized citizens who have resided in the United States for six years or more;
    • Recipients of Social Security benefits, Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid, Medicare, or public assistance;
    • Households with at least one citizen that received SNAP benefits;
    • Refugees; or
    • Federal government employees or law enforcement officers.

    The remainder of the foreign-born population that does not meet these criteria are reclassified as undocumented. Since DACA-eligible population is a subset of the total undocumented population, we then apply the guidelines for DACA from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to ACS microdata to restrict our data further. We determine an undocumented person DACA-eligible if the individual:

    • Was born after the second quarter of 1981;
    • Came to the United States before reaching his or her 16th birthday; and
    • Has moved to the United States by 2007.

    While USCIS guidelines for DACA application also include restrictions on those who have criminal records, it is not possible to determine such information from the U.S. Census. Our final numbers of the DACA-eligible population are the most reliable estimates that one can extrapolate from the Census microdata.

    Unlike past NAE papers on income and tax contributions, this brief treats each DACA-eligible individual as a single taxpaying unit. This follows the lead of other groups, such as the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), that have also sought to quantify the economic and tax contributions of this population.

    As in past NAE briefs, we use the term “spending power.”5 Here and elsewhere we define spending power as the disposable income leftover after subtracting federal, state, and local taxes from total household income.

    Using the 2013–2015 ACS microdata sample, we then estimate the aggregate household income, tax contributions, and spending power of DACA-eligible households. We estimate state and local taxes using the tax incidence estimates produced by ITEP.6 For federal tax rate estimates, we use data released by the Congressional Budget Office in 2014 and calculate the federal tax based on their estimates for household federal tax incidence rates by income quintile.7

    Entrepreneurs in this brief are defined as any worker who reported being self-employed in the 2013–2015 ACS sample.

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