Which illegal immigrants will benefit most from Obama’s deportation relief?

The Obama administration this week officially launched its new policy to exempt certain young illegal immigrants from deportation. Under the sweeping change, about 1.76 million immigrants could be eligible for temporary reprieve to live and work in the United States for at least two years, subject to renewal. The Migration Policy Institute takes a closer look at the pool of immigrants eligible for deportation relief.

Based on the criteria—described in detail here—almost three-fourths, or 1.3 million, of all potential beneficiaries were born in Mexico or Central America. Another 11 percent are from other countries in Latin America, and the remaining 15 percent are from other parts of the world. Outside of Latin America, the two top countries of origin are India and Korea, "each with about 30,000 beneficiaries, or 2 percent," MPI explains.


(Source: Migration Policy Institute)

Of the 1.76 million potential beneficiaries, about 45 percent are in K-12 grade school, 22 percent have a high-school diploma or GED, 4.5 percent are college grads, and 8 percent are attending college. The final 20 percent are not students and don't have diplomas, but they would be eligible if they re-enroll in high school or GED programs by the time they apply.

Most of the qualified beneficiaries come from traditionally immigrant-heavy states: California, Texas, Florida and New York top the list. But other states with growing immigrant populations are home to many of those eligible, including Georgia and North Carolina.

Immigration policy groups questioned whether the Department of Homeland Security is prepared to deal with the influx of applications. There are already massive backlogs that have slowed down the federal government's ability to process cases of legal and illegal immigrants. The $465 application fee should offset some of the cost, but it will be waived in certain need-driven circumstances. Altogether, officials say, "the cost to the government could range from a gain of $16 million to a loss of more than $101 million" within the first two years, the Associated Press reports.

Even if the new policy goes into effect without a hitch, it's worth remembering that it's far from a comprehensive solution: Of the 11 million illegal immigrants estimated to be in this country, only about 16 percent will qualify for deportation relief through Obama's policy. And those who do get relief won't be getting citizenship.

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Ezra Klein · August 17, 2012

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