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Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde August 22, 2016

Clinton says almost a half-million immigrants still eligible for DACA, particularly Asians

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has presented herself as an advocate for immigrants, saying she’ll push for immigration reform within her first 100 days in the Oval Office and promising to continue the deferred deportation plans of President Barack Obama.

On Aug. 15 — four years to the day since immigration officials began accepting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals applications — she published a post on Medium directed to those who have applied for the deportation relief program and to those who haven’t.

"In America, the place of your birth should never be a barrier that stops you from reaching your God-given potential  —  that’s what makes our country great, and that’s the promise I’m going to fight to fulfill," Clinton wrote.

She said a sizable amount of immigrants could still apply for the program.

"Experts estimate almost half a million people are still eligible, particularly in the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community," Clinton wrote.

We wondered if Clinton was right about the estimated number of eligible applicants, and whether the Asian and Pacific Islander communities represented an outsized proportion.

Clinton’s campaign directed us to an August report published by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute analyzing DACA application rates. The study found that application rates were "generally very low" for immigrants born in Asia.

DACA background

The Homeland Security Department, which oversees immigration enforcement, announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, in June 2012.

It was designed to defer deportation for undocumented immigrants 30 years old or younger and who arrived in the United States before they were 16 years old. Applicants have to meet several criteria to be considered, including having continuously lived in the United States since June 15, 2007, and be in school, have graduated or obtained a GED certificate, or be an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or U.S. armed forces. Applicants also cannot have felony convictions, a significant misdemeanor or three or more misdemeanors, nor can they be be a threat to national security or public safety.

Advocates argue that those who were brought to the country by their parents as children should be given opportunities to stay in the country since they likely weren’t the ones making decisions to migrate or to stay in the country illegally.

DACA does not grant lawful status, but people who receive DACA are not considered to be "unlawfully present" during their time of deferred action. DACA defers deportation for two-year periods, it can be renewed and beneficiaries can also apply for work permits.

This summer, the Supreme Court deadlocked in a 4-4 decision on an extended version of DACA and on a deferred action program for parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, which allowed an appellate court’s injunction to stand. That decision does not affect the original DACA.

DACA eligible population

Back to Clinton’s point: We wondered how many unauthorized immigrants are eligible and how many have applied.

When it comes to the undocumented population, what’s usually available are just estimates. The Migration Policy Institute report is based on a formula using federal immigration data and Census Bureau survey data.

The report offers two sets of eligible applicants: 1.3 million and 1.7 million.

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The institute found that about 1.3 million unauthorized immigrants were immediately eligible for DACA in 2016  — they met all criteria, including high school completion or school enrollment.

About 400,000 more met DACA criteria except high school completion or school enrollment requirement in 2014.

The additional 400,000 may have become eligible for DACA by enrolling in an adult education program — bringing the total eligible population in 2016 to about 1.7 million, the institute said.

As of March 31, 2016, immigration officials had accepted about 820,000 (meaning they can begin going through the deferred-action process). Of the nearly 820,000 accepted, officials approved 728,285.

So of the 1.3 million immediately eligible population, about 480,000 can still apply.

By assuming up to 1.7 million are eligible, then there could be up to 880,000 who can still apply for DACA.

Clinton is right that immigrants from the Asian and Pacific Islander population comprise a large chunk of people who can still apply.

South Korea ranked fourth among the top five countries of birth for the immediately eligible DACA population in 2016 (after Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador), according to the institute. Honduras was fifth.

But only 7,000 of the estimated 49,000 eligible South Koreans have applied. And less than 30 percent of about 33,000 eligible immigrants from India and the Philippines have applied.

Multiple immigration scholars and experts we reached out to cited MPI’s research as a credible base for DACA estimates.

There are more than 130,000 undocumented immigrants of Asian descent eligible for DACA, according to estimates cited by the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The group also noted back in 2014 that DACA enrollment from Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders was "disproportionately low."

Mexican-born immigrants represented 63 percent of the immediately eligible DACA population and 78 percent of them have applied, according to MPI.

New America Media, a national collaboration of 3,000 ethnic news organizations, reported earlier this month that applications from Asians and Pacific Islanders may be at lower rates because those communities may not know they can apply.

Some of the reasons they have not applied may include fear of immigration agencies, cultural stigma in speaking about immigration status, shortage of community resources about DACA in languages spoken by Asians and Pacific Islanders, and few portrayals of deportation relief as an issue for their communities, said Sheridan Lagunas, a spokesperson for United We Dream, a youth-led immigrant rights national group.

Our ruling

In a Medium post, Clinton said, "experts estimate almost half a million people are still eligible (for DACA), particularly in the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community."

Researchers have estimated the number of eligible DACA recipients might be around 1.3 million to 1.7 million people, with immigration officials having accepted about 820,000 applications. Based on varying estimates, that leaves about 500,000 to nearly 900,000 people who can still apply.

Immigration advocates and scholars have said Asian American and Pacific Islander application rates are lower compared to other populations, likely due to lack of information.

We rate Clinton’s statement True.

Our Sources

Medium, Hillary Clinton - To young people who are undocumented: This is your country, too., Aug. 15, 2016

Email exchange with Hillary Clinton’s campaign, Aug. 17, 2016

Migration Policy Institute, DACA at Four: Participation in the Deferred Action Program and Impacts on Recipients, Aug. 2016

Pew Research Center, Up to 1.7 Million Unauthorized Immigrant Youth May Benefit from New Deportation Rules, Aug. 14, 2012

Pew Research Center, Those from Mexico will benefit most from Obama’s executive action, Nov. 20, 2014

U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services, DACA intake, biometrics and case status, March 31, 2016

U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Fact Sheet: AAPI and Undocumented? Invest In Your Future

The New York Times, Advocates Struggle to Reach Immigrants Eligible for Deferred Action, Dec. 8, 2013

The New York Times, Supreme Court Tie Blocks Obama Immigration Plan, June 23, 2016

NPR, Many Young Undocumented Immigrants Have Yet To Seek 'Deferred Action,’ Dec. 16, 2013

The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Fact Sheet: AAPI and Undocumented? Invest In Your Future

Center for Migration Studies of New York, Reaching Undocumented Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States

Center for Migration Studies of New York, Estimates on Total US Undocumented and DAPA- and DACA-Eligible Populations by Metropolitan Area

Center for Immigration Studies, What If There Was an Amnesty and a Majority of Those Eligible Ignored It?, Aug. 18, 2016

Institute for Research and Labor Development, University of California, Los Angeles, From Undocumented to DACAmented, June 2015

New America Media, AAPI Immigrants Encouraged to Apply for DACA, Aug. 4, 2016

American Immigration Lawyers Association, DACAversary, Aug. 15, 2016

Email interview, Mark Krikorian, executive director at Center for Immigration Studies

Email interview, Roberto G. Gonzales, assistant professor of education at Harvard University

Email interview, Sheridan Lagunas spokesperson for United We Dream

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Clinton says almost a half-million immigrants still eligible for DACA, particularly Asians

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