The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Trump administration may be about to commit to billions in additional spending

People gather for a rally and protest to mark the fifth anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program near Trump Tower in New York on Aug. 15. (Justin Lane/European Pressphoto Agency)

This article has been corrected.

Shortly before the 2012 election, the administration of Barack Obama instituted a new approach to immigrants in the country illegally. Those who’d come into the United States before their 16th birthdays and who were in school or had graduated from high school without being convicted of a crime were offered protection from deportation and the ability to work legally in the United States. Those eligible had to apply for coverage under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (or DACA) program — and more than a million did.

The program requires that applicants renew their status every two years.

As of the most recent quarter for which data are available, Immigration and Customs Enforcement reports that 1.59 million people have applied and been approved for DACA protection. This figure is higher than the total number of DACA recipients, however, since the program is capped at 787,000 total. It’s not clear precisely how many people are currently covered under DACA.

During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump pledged to end the program on his first day in office. More than 200 days later, that threat appears to be about to come to fruition. Facing a deadline of Sept. 5 imposed by state lawmakers from his party, President Trump will soon need to decide the fate of the program — and those individuals.

An undocumented immigrant worries what will happen if Trump repeals DACA. (Video: Whitney Shefte/The Washington Post)

If he repeals DACA, the implications are significant.

Most of those who’ve been approved as program participants — of the 1.59 million applications cataloged by ICE — were born in Mexico but almost 19,000 are from Asia and about 2,000 are from Poland.

Approved applicants tend to live in the nation’s most populous states, which isn’t a surprise. But a number of southwestern states have a disproportionate number of DACA applicants relative to their overall populations. Nevada, for example, has seen about 25,000 approved DACA applicants, a figure equal to 0.84 percent of the state’s population — the same ratio as in Texas.

Again, these figures represent those who applied for applications over the program’s history and are not current values.

What would a complete termination of DACA mean? It would mean, in essence, that those 787,000 or so people who’d received protection under the rule could be subject to deportation. Earlier this year, the Arizona Republic asked ICE how much it cost to deport someone who’d immigrated to the country illegally and learned that, on average, the agency spent $10,854 per deportee. (Those costs vary, of course, depending on the length of any legal proceedings and if the individual is being returned to Mexico or, say, India.)

In other words, ending DACA and moving toward deportation of approved applicants would run up a bill of over $8.5 billion. That’s enough to fund the National Endowment for the Arts (which Trump’s budget proposed eliminating) for 56 years. It’s enough to fund 40 percent of Trump’s proposed border wall.

The administration doesn’t necessarily have to repeal DACA entirely, and doing so wouldn’t necessarily mean nearly 800,000 deportations. It could instead do nothing, in which case those Republican state legislators would take the policy to court where the administration wouldn’t have to defend it.

From a political standpoint, that might be the best bet for Trump. His base would certainly support repealing DACA, but the program is popular with Hispanic voters. In February 2012, Obama’s approval rating among Hispanics was as low as 51 percent, six percentage points above the national number. By the end of the year, it had surged to 77 percent, 24 points higher than Americans on the whole.

That sort of shift would be hard for any politician to ignore, even one who proudly declares himself to not be a politician.

Correction: This article originally misinterpreted the data from ICE. Thanks to Dara Lind from Vox for pointing out the mistake. The article has been updated throughout.