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Nearly 100,000 Unauthorized Immigrants Graduate from High School Every Year, New MPI Analysis Finds

Press Release
Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Nearly 100,000 Unauthorized Immigrants Graduate from High School Every Year, New MPI Analysis Finds

WASHINGTON – With the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program before the courts and renewed efforts in Congress to pass DREAM Act-type legislation, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) today released new estimates of the number of unauthorized immigrants who graduate from high school, finding nearly 98,000 do so annually across the United States.

It has been more than 15 years since the last widely circulated estimate of graduating unauthorized immigrants was issued. Since then, the size and educational profile of the young unauthorized immigrant population, generally known as DREAMers, has changed considerably, MPI researchers Jie Zong and Jeanne Batalova explain in a new fact sheet.

Among the changes: The growing diversity of the DREAMer population beyond Mexico as more come from Central America, Asia and Africa, and the advent of in-state tuition and other policies encouraging and supporting their high school graduation and higher education enrollment.

The new estimates draw from MPI’s unique methodology that permits analysis of sociodemographic characteristics of the unauthorized population by assigning legal status in Census Bureau data. Working from an initial dataset of unauthorized immigrants reaching high school graduation age, the researchers applied differences in overall U.S. graduation rates by race/ethnicity and English Learner status to generate the estimate of the number of DREAMers graduating annually.

Forty-four percent of these graduates reside in just two states: California and Texas, which account for about 27,000 and 17,000 of the 98,000 graduating every year. The researchers were able to provide estimates for 15 states that have the largest graduating DREAMer populations:

Estimated Number of Unauthorized Immigrants Graduating from High School Yearly, by State

Note: Totals do not add up due to rounding.

With DACA targeted for termination by the Trump administration but kept alive by court orders for existing recipients, many unauthorized immigrant youth are graduating from high school without access to the program’s deportation relief and work authorization. And efforts in Congress to pass DREAM Act legislation, which would place these youth on a path to legalization in exchange for meeting educational, professional and other criteria, have not succeeded despite significant bipartisan support.

“While high school graduation represents an important milestone in the lives of many young people, these graduates will face severely limited opportunities to pursue further work and education, and will be at risk of deportation,” said Batalova, who is an MPI senior policy analyst.

Read the fact sheet, whose research was supported by the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/unauthorized-immigrants-graduate-us-high-schools.

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels.