Nearly 100,000 undocumented students graduate from high school each year, but under the Trump administration, they cannot apply for DACA status, which has protected hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation since the program started under the Obama administration.
A new report based on census data from the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, estimates that 98,000 students graduate from high schools each year, a substantial increase from a previous estimate of 65,000.
The states with the largest number of undocumented graduates are California (27 percent), Texas (17 percent), Florida (6 percent) and New York and New Jersey (both with 4 percent).
Under DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, immigrants who were brought to the United States as babies or children but do not have legal status could apply to work and study without fear of deportation. As of January, almost 700,000 young immigrants had benefited from the DACA program. While it doesn't give them a path to citizenship, it allows them to work legally, apply for in-state college tuition and obtain driver's licenses.
In 2017, the Trump administration tried to end DACA but was stopped by lower courts that have kept the program alive. Current DACA recipients can still renew their applications every two years, but no new applications are being accepted.
While the battle over the program continues, those graduating high school without DACA protections can be arrested and deported.
According to the report, there are several reasons why the number of undocumented high school graduates has gone up since a 2003 report. The immigrant population has increased during this time, and federal and state policies have encouraged high school and college graduation.
Many states have also allowed undocumented students to pay lower in-state tuition rates at public universities.
Although the number of undocumented students graduating without protection has gone up, there is fear that eventually the number could decrease because of dropouts.
“DACA has incentives for people to graduate from high school,” said Jeanne Batalova, a senior policy analyst with the Migration Policy Institute and co-author of the report. Batalova says the Trump administration’s crackdown on unauthorized immigration and the rhetoric surrounding the issue can play a negative role and lead to fewer undocumented immigrants graduating from high school.
“People will drop out of high school because they won’t see a point in graduating,” she said.
The overwhelming majority of Latino students in the U.S. are citizens — around 98 percent are either citizens or residents, according to a report by Excelencia in Education, a group that measures Latino student success. Still, a significant number of undocumented students are graduating each year.
Batalova acknowledges that it would make sense for more undocumented students to remain in high school, which can provide resources like counseling and free meals for low-income students. But often, when a family is financially struggling, students often leave school to work.
Batalova said she was encouraged that the number of undocumented graduates did not drop. “The question," he added, "is what will happen to those who are eligible to graduate.”