Spotlight on the DACA-Eligible Population

This post was updated on May 14, 2020 to include relevant data in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which grants law-abiding undocumented youth a renewable two-year reprieve from deportation and the ability to work in the United States if they are in, or have graduated from, high school.

Although there are currently approximately 660,000 enrolled in DACA at the end of 2019, our analysis of the latest American Community Survey (ACS) data finds that there are just short of 1.2 million DACA-eligible people in the United States. Several studies have shown that granting DACA has significant economic benefits, both for DACA holders and the U.S. economy in general. However, significant barriers, including cost, awareness of the policy, and a fear of providing information to the federal government, all contribute to the disparity between the DACA-eligible and DACA-holding population.

DACA-Eligible Immigrants on the Frontlines and as Essential Workers

With a Supreme Court ruling on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program case expected in the coming months, we take a closer look at the significant contributions of the DACA-eligible population in the United States. With their collective futures in this country uncertain, this brief focuses specifically on the work DACA-eligible immigrants are doing on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis to show how they are helping the recovery and what could be lost should the DACA program end for good.

NAE has already shown how immigrants disproportionately serve in essential industries. Data from the American Community Survey (ACS) shows that there are almost 13.2 million immigrant essential workers in the United States. All together, these essential workers make up almost half, or 48.3 percent, of all employed immigrant workers in the country. 

The same is true for DACA-eligible immigrant workers. An additional analysis shows that almost half of DACA-eligible immigrant workers are currently employed on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the frontlines, they serve in essential industries and carry out vital roles that keep the country functioning, including in healthcare, restaurants and food service, agriculture, and construction.

Key Facts:

  • Almost 62,000 essential healthcare workers are DACA-eligible immigrants.
  • Meanwhile, 480,000 essential non-healthcare workers are DACA-eligible immigrants.
  • Combined, there were 542,000 essential workers who are DACA-eligible immigrants.
  • This means that nearly half of the almost 1.2 million DACA-eligible immigrants in the country are essential workers.

The DACA-eligible population is works disproportionately in essential industries. Among essential workers, they represent more than twice the share they do in the general population, with almost 542,000 DACA-eligible residents working in essential industries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Out of the almost 1.2 million DACA-eligible residents in the country, almost half (45.4 percent) work in essential industries.
  • While only approximately 0.36 percent of the population is DACA-eligible, just over 0.8 percent of essential workers are DACA eligible.
  • Looking at non-healthcare industries only, DACA-eligible residents represent a full 1 percent of the essential workers.

The majority of DACA-eligible immigrants, or almost 480,000, are working in essential non-healthcare industries, such as restaurants, bars, construction, supermarkets, and agriculture.

  • More than 160,000 DACA-eligible residents represent 1.7 percent of essential restaurant and food service (i.e. cooks, food preparation, waiters and waitresses) workers, helping ensure that restaurants stay afloat during the pandemic.
  • Another 23,000 work in supermarkets or other grocery stores.
  • Around 14,000 DACA-eligible residents do essential work in agriculture, ensuring a continued food supply for all Americans.
  • About 1.2 percent (almost 120,000) of essential workers in the construction industry are DACA-eligible residents, working to keep the economy from grounding to a halt.

DACA-eligible immigrant workers are also an active part of the essential healthcare workforce, filling important roles on the frontlines of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

  • Almost 24,000 DACA-eligible immigrants work hospitals in the United States.
  • Another 38,000 work for care centers/services/facilities, physicians’ offices, community housing, and psychiatric & substance abuse hospitals.
  • The three essential occupations with the most DACA-eligible workers are health aides (13,600), nurses (10,600), and medical assistants (6,400).  


With hundreds of thousands of frontline essential workers being DACA-eligible, the contributions these young immigrants is clearer now more than ever. Data show that DACA-eligible immigrants ensure America’s food supply, keep restaurants running, and maintain a functioning healthcare system for everyone during the pandemic. Leaving their future in doubt, or removing their ability to stay and work in the United States would not only risk the security of hundreds of thousands of these DACA-eligible immigrants but also risk the recovery efforts and future of the United States in general.

Statistics on the DACA-eligible population in the United States:


  • The vast majority of the DACA-eligible population, 81.4 percent, have graduated from high school and taken a college course.
  • Nearly 17 percent have gone to college and earned a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
  • More than 1 in 10 only speak English and over 90 percent speak English well or better.
  • The DACA-eligible population is diverse, with countries like South Korea, Canada, Poland, India, and Mexico represented.
  • A vast majority of DACA-eligible people speak another language in addition to English, including Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and French.


  • A majority of DACA-eligible people—almost 59 percent—live in just 5 states: California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois.

Labor Market

  • Despite the rhetoric claiming undocumented youths are a drain on the U.S. economy, 94 percent of the DACA-eligible population in the labor force are employed.
    • Among them, more than 45,000 own their own business.
    • In 2015, DACA-eligible entrepreneurs had a total business income of $658.7 million, a significant boost to local economies across the country.
  • DACA-eligible people contribute to a wide variety of industries, such as construction, helping to build American homes and businesses; child care; and restaurants and grocery stores across the United States.
  • The average income for a DACA-eligible individual is just $17,300 per year. This lower income reflects their youth and legal status. However, once granted access to an education, we find that DACA-eligible people with at least a college degree see a dramatic increase in their incomes, making $30,000 per year on average.
  • College-educated DACA-eligible people fill crucial roles in the U.S. economy, including accounting, nursing, and teaching.

Top 10 Industries for all Employed DACA-Eligible

Industry Total Number
Restaurants and other food services 155,525
Construction 84,323
Grocery stores 24,027
Hospitals 17,611
Landscaping services 16,758
Colleges, universities, and professional schools 16,133
Clothing stores 15,187
Traveler accommodation 15,056
Department stores and discount stores 13,744
Services to buildings and dwellings 13,544

Top 10 Occupations for All Employed DACA-Eligible

Occupation Total Number
Cashiers 54,038
Waiters and waitresses 40,477
Chefs and cooks 38,187
Retail salespersons 31,391
Construction laborers 27,022
Customer service representatives 22,536
Freight and stock laborers 18,768
Grounds maintenance workers 17,132
First-line supervisors of sales workers 15,972
Janitors and building cleaners 14,520

Top 10 Occupations for Employed, College-Educated DACA-Eligible

Occupation Total Number
Accountants and auditors 4,129
Registered nurses 3,404
Postsecondary teachers 3,022
Managers, nec (including postmasters) 2,981
Elementary and middle school teachers 2,872
Software developers 2,817
Computer scientists and systems analyst 2,174
Customer service representatives 2,170
Waiters and waitresses 2,125
Designers 2,015

Income, Tax Contributions, and Spending Power

  • DACA-eligible population earned almost $25.2 billion in total income in 2018 alone. They contributed more than $3.3 billion to federal taxes and more than $2.6 billion to state and local taxes in the United States.
  • They also hold significant economic clout after taxes, with almost $19.4 billion in spending power.

See our analysis of the contributions of the DACA-Eligible population in key states here.

About Us

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…