Number of undocumented individuals with protections
has quadrupled in the past decade

Roughly one in five undocumented individuals are currently protected from deportation.
Expanding protections for undocumented people would provide continued benefits to American families and communities.
Happy 10-year anniversary to Immigrant Heritage Month!

Click the image above to read stories of how immigration relief changed undocumented people’s lives throughout the past decade.

In Congress’ nearly 40 years of failure to pass a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, new analysis by shows that a significantly higher share of undocumented individuals today have some form of immigration relief, such as deportation protections or access to work permits, compared with a decade ago. This growth in the number of undocumented individuals with protections has enabled millions of family members to stay together, and has grown the U.S. economy by billions of dollars. estimates that nearly 1 in 5 undocumented immigrants, or about 2 million, have protections, including access to work permits, up from less than half a million a decade ago, even as the total number of undocumented immigrants has stayed relatively stable during the same period.

At the end of 2022, more than 500,000 among this group were Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders. TPS provides work authorization and deportation protections typically through the Department of Homeland Security, for people whose home countries are very unsafe. And nearly 600,000 people are protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, an administrative rule providing deportation protections and work permits for undocumented young people who entered the U.S. as children. Finally, at least 700,000 people have an asylum claim pending in immigration court. These individuals participating in a lawful asylum-seeking process—which is their legal right under both U.S. and international law—have access to work permits while they are waiting for a decision in their case.1

"Nearly 1 in 5 undocumented immigrants, or about 2 million, have protections, including access to work permits, up from less than half a million a decade ago."

This increase in the number of individuals with protections reflects a changing undocumented population. Although the majority of undocumented individuals have lived in the U.S. for many years, some have left the U.S., either voluntarily or by having been forced to, while new individuals have entered. The change in the number of individuals with protections demonstrates how the composition of the undocumented population is also shifting, even as the total size of the population has remained relatively stable for about a decade.

At least 2.1 million U.S. citizens were living in households with an individual with protections, including 400,000 U.S. citizen spouses and at least 1.2 million U.S. citizen minor children. In all, an estimated 5.3 million people live in households with at least one undocumented person who holds some form of protection from deportation. These protections have undoubtedly kept millions of families safe and together.

Protecting more people via some form of immigration relief has also benefited the U.S. economy and driven job growth. Previous analysis has shown how TPS holders living in the U.S. a decade or more have much higher labor force participation rates, often higher than 80%, compared with the U.S. general public, at around 62%.2 This has permitted a greater number of individuals to participate in the economy, filling critical industries as essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and now in industries with severe labor shortages, like healthcare and education.

Protecting more people via some form of immigration relief has also benefited the U.S. economy and driven job growth.

Additionally, DACA recipients have attained similar median income levels compared with U.S.-citizen young adults of similar ages. DACA recipients have contributed some $108 billion to the U.S. economy and $33 billion in combined taxes since the policy was established, a much higher contribution than if these individuals did not have access to work permits.

This growth in the number of undocumented people with protections occurs alongside rising support for the legalization of undocumented immigrants, whether it be access to green cards or a pathway to citizenship. Poll after poll over the last 15-plus years has shown support among U.S. adults continuing to grow: some 8 in 10 American adults now support some sort of legalization for undocumented individuals, up from roughly 6 in 10 Americans around 2005.3 Support for legalization is usually highest for those who entered the U.S. as children, have lived in the U.S. for a long time, or have U.S. citizen family members—all groups that make up considerable portions of individuals who are today protected from deportation and are able to access work permits.

These findings are highlighted in a new report that celebrates both the 10-year anniversary of Immigrant Heritage Month and advocates’ decade-long fight for immigrant rights, including immigration relief for undocumented individuals. Without question, these efforts have resulted in concrete impact: a greater number of undocumented people in recent years have obtained DACA or TPS status, or have applied for asylum. Also, rising public support for expanding legal pathways is clear evidence of how positive narrative efforts year after year have helped shift public support.

The only real and lasting solution is for Congress to pass legislation that provides immigration relief as well as a pathway to citizenship.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of undocumented people have not yet received or do not have access to these vital forms of relief, even if they should qualify. For example, many undocumented individuals are from countries that should be designated or redesignated for TPS, because they cannot safely return. Similarly, an estimated 400,000 young adults eligible for DACA are barred from obtaining protections because of a stay by the courts for new applications.

And even with immigration relief, the people who currently have access to work permits still live with great uncertainty, relying on renewals of policies and court decisions that could suddenly withdraw or lessen their much-needed protections. For example, DACA recipients need to reapply for protections every two years. TPS countries are up for redesignation about every 18 months. And asylum seekers face a backlog of more than one million cases and wait times of more than four years before their cases can be decided. Meanwhile, the DACA policy remains under threat by several court challenges; if renewals were stopped, 1,000 jobs would be lost each and every business day for two years.

The only real and lasting solution is for Congress to pass legislation that provides immigration relief as well as a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, essential workers, long-term TPS holders, and other undocumented people. With access to work permits, an additional 160,000 undocumented people would likely enter the labor force; if immigration relief were more broadly extended to the entire undocumented population, potentially 200,000 more people would join in industries with severe labor shortages.4 Undocumented immigrants are estimated to contribute about $149 billion more to the U.S. economy each year, according to a separate study, in addition to $39 billion more in combined federal, payroll, state, and local taxes, if they were U.S. citizens.

With a pathway to citizenship, Congress can keep these families together, while simultaneously helping secure the U.S. workforce and boosting economic growth for decades to come. Even with a divided Congress, legislators broadly agree on many commonsense bipartisan solutions that protect American families and boost our economy. They should get to work passing legislative solutions.


  1. This report focuses on three of the largest protected groups of undocumented immigrants. Smaller populations with protections sometimes considered undocumented and not included in this analysis are Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), T visa or U visa holders, and those granted humanitarian parole.
  2. Labor force participation rates for TPS holders are also significantly higher than the U.S. general public of similar ages.
  3. This general upward trend is seen across several nationwide surveys, according to a analysis of tens of surveys from the Roper Center, representing tens of thousands of respondents. The surveys employed varying polling methods, were conducted by numerous polling firms, and used different wording in survey questions, but overall show a general upward direction to support for legalization of undocumented individuals.
  4. These estimates are based on applying labor force participation and worker industry shortage rates of undocumented immigrants with immigration relief to the total undocumented population.

Phillip Connor

Senior Demographer

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