Equity & Diversity

Obama’s Deferred Action Program: A Statistical Look at Youths’ Participation

By Lesli A. Maxwell — August 06, 2014 2 min read
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Next week marks the second anniversary of the Obama administration’s deferred action program that gives eligible undocumented youth who were brought to the United States as children temporary relief from deportation and a shot at work authorization

And over those two years, more than half of the 1.2 million undocumented immigrant youth who had met the requirements to seek relief from deportation have applied for the reprieve, according to a new analysis released Wednesday by the Migration Policy Institute, based in Washington.

The report estimates that more than 2.1 million undocumented youth have been potentially eligible for deferred action since the program launched. And it identifies two other groups who could gain deferred action status in the coming years: the 426,000 youth who appeared to meet all the program’s criteria except for the education requirement when the program started, and the 473,000 children who have so far been too young to apply but will be eligible once they turn 15 as long as they are in school or earn a high school diploma or its equivalent.

MPI also reports that federal immigration authorities have so far granted the deferred action status to 587,366 undocumented youth and that they have accepted 25,000 applications from youth seeking to renew their status for another two years.

Debate over immigration reform in the United States has been white-hot in Obama’s second term and has become even more inflamed in recent months as the administration has sought to address the surge of more than 60,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America across the Southwest border.

While those youth and children are not eligible for deferred action, the two issues have become politically entangled. Last week, conservative House Republicans would only agree to vote for a $659 million emergency funding measure to address unaccompanied minors if GOP leaders allowed them to also vote on a bill that would restrict President Obama’s authority to keep the deferred action program in place.

Using U.S. Census data, the MPI analysis offers lots of new and insightful findings on the young people impacted by the deferred action program so far, including:


  • Youth hailing from Latin American countries—led by Honduras, Mexico, and Peru—were the most likely to apply for the status, while Asian youth applied at much less robust rates;
  • Arizona and Texas boasted the highest rates of applicants, while Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Virginia had the lowest applicant rates; and
  • Youth who’ve already met eligibility requirements have strong English-language skills, with 8 percent speaking only English at home and 63 percent being bilingual.

MPI also launched a new online data tool that provides information on the eligible youth in most states and detailed profiles of the states where most undocumented immigrant youth live.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.


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