Nearly 100,000 illegal immigrants graduate high schools annually without DACA protection, study finds

As Congress and the White House have struggled to reach a deal on immigration reform, a D.C. think tank released a study Wednesday estimating that about 33,000 more illegal immigrants than previously thought were graduating from U.S. high schools every year.

The study, released on Wednesday by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), reached a 98,000 figure after applying public school graduation rates, among subgroups, to the estimated total number of illegal immigrants who reached high school graduation age (125,000). A previous estimate from 2003 put the number of illegal-immigrant high school graduates at 65,000.

MPI, which describes itself as a "nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank," reported that California and Texas graduated the most illegal immigrant students with 27,000 and 17,000 respectively. Those two states represented 44 percent of the graduates while Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois graduated at least 4,000 each -- 5,000 in Florida's case.

Many, if not all, of those 98,000 students likely won't obtain protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — which protects around 680,000 who came to the U.S. as minors — as the administration has refused to accept requests from individuals who never held protected status.


DACA likely will be a part of any immigration deal that Congress passes since Democrats repeatedly have demanded the president address that through legislation.

The number of graduates could be higher given that MPI used Census data to inform its study. Noting that illegal immigrants had an incentive to stay undetected, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor looked at the issue but bypassed population surveys and looked at data including border apprehensions and visa overstays.

The joint study, released in 2018 with Yale University, estimated that about 22.1 million illegal immigrants lived in the United States — roughly double the 11.3 million figure that MPI cited in its research.

MPI's estimate came as the Trump administration has pressed Congress to address the growing crisis at the southern border. As unprecedented numbers of migrants have tried crossing the border, law enforcement agencies have faced limits over how long they could detain migrants -- and ultimately had to release some into the United States and Mexico.


The study also came amid questions over how much tax money U.S. citizens have paid in support of services for illegal immigrants — an issue that President Trump and many others have highlighted during his administration.

Trump's Commerce Department appeared to address the issue in 2018 when it announced it would add a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census. Democrats blasted the administration for depriving states and localities of data used to provide government services.

A 2017 study found that illegal immigrants consumed at least $100 billion a year in taxpayer benefits — including from federal programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.

Although Trump has threatened to shut down asylum entry, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appeared to focus on building a southern border wall and fortifying ports of entry. Describing the department's "robust relationship" with the military, Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan told Fox News' Dana Perino that even without Congress' assistance, he expected substantial progress on a border wall in 2019.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, meanwhile, indicated she wanted to address economic issues before tackling immigration in Congress.

"Our view of how we go forward is if we can change people’s financial security ... if we can give people confidence, end some of their insecurities about their own economic situation, there will be a better atmosphere among some who are opposed to immigration in the country," she said earlier in April.

The California Democrat also pushed back on the president's rhetoric, accusing him of engaging in "tantrums." "We all know we need to secure the border," she said at a party retreat in April.


“We don’t need a lecture or tantrums from the president on that score," she added. "But, we do want to work together for comprehensive immigration reform, and I am pleased to see it reported that [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell is ready to talk about that because we have a symptom at the border.”

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) reportedly started drafting immigration legislation to propose after the House addresses DACA and the Temporary Protected Status program. Although legislation has been introduced to address those issues, they awaited action in the House Judiciary Committee.