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Is Obama giving new protections to 5 million immigrants? Probably not

The media agrees that before the end of 2014 — and possibly as soon as this week — President Obama is going to announce broad executive actions on immigration, and that those are probably going to include temporary protection from deportation for millions of immigrants. But there's a bit of confusion over how many millions that is.

Obama's upcoming plan is being characterized, in advance, as relief for 5 million unauthorized immigrants. But based on the rumors about who'd be likely to be included in the plan, that's not exactly accurate.

deportation relief estimates

What it looks like is that, by the time Obama's new plan goes into effect, 5 million unauthorized immigrants, in total, will be eligible to apply for protection from deportation. That includes immigrants who are already eligible for protection — even before any new plan is announced — because they qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which the Obama administration introduced in 2012.

Who's likely to be eligible for deportation relief?

Here's how the New York Times, which reported Obama's rumored plan last week, broke it down, using data from the Migration Policy Institute:

  • Currently eligible for deferred action: about 1.2 million. Under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, young unauthorized immigrants who came to the US as children can apply for protection from deportation. So far, about 600,000 immigrants have received protection under DACA — but it's estimated that 1.2 million immigrants are eligible, and that about half of them just haven't applied.
  • Expansions to the existing DACA program: up to 700,000. According to the Times, one of the options that the Obama administration is considering is changing the standards to be eligible for DACA. Right now, no one who came to the US after 2007 is eligible for DACA; the administration could change that to 2011. Similarly, no one who came to the US when they were older than 15 is currently eligible for DACA; the administration could change the cut-off date to anyone older than 17. Those two changes, combined, would make an additional 700,000 people eligible to apply for DACA.
  • A new program granting relief to parents: 2.5 million-3.4 million, depending on scope. The centerpiece of the administration's expected plan is a program that would protect unauthorized immigrant parents of US citizens or green-card holders from deportation, and allow them to seek work permits. If the program is limited to parents who've been in the US for ten years (since 2004), the Times estimates that about 2.5 million immigrants would be eligible for relief. But if the program applies to parents who've been in the US for at least five years (since 2009), then 3.3 million immigrants would be eligible. And if parents of DACA-eligible young people are included, 3.4 million immigrants would be eligible.

So in total, it sounds like Obama's plan will affect up to 4 million unauthorized immigrants. But including the immigrants who are already eligible for protection, by the time this new proposal goes into effect, 5 million of the nation's 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants would be eligible to seek protection.

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