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Who Might Be Included In Obama’s Immigration Overhaul?

The New York Times reported Thursday that President Obama plans to take executive action on immigration reform as soon as next week. Specific details of the order have yet to be released, but administration officials told the Times that one piece will allow many undocumented parents of American citizens or legal residents to obtain legal work documents.

In September, the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank, released a report detailing the actions that Obama could take and how many people each action would possibly affect. The institute estimated that, as of 2012, there were 3.6 million undocumented parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents who would be eligible for legal work documents under the proposal. That number doesn’t include the parents of children who are eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), or other family members who may also be included in Obama’s order.


Of course, these numbers assume that any executive action would include the entire undocumented population, regardless of how long they’ve lived here. If Obama includes a residency requirement, the number of people affected would shrink. Assuming the plan includes the broadest swath of family ties (i.e. undocumented immigrants who are spouses or parents of U.S. citizens, legal residents or those who are DACA eligible), it would affect 3.8 million undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for five years, 2.9 million who have lived here for 10 years and 1.6 million who have lived here for 15 years, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

The plan could also alter the government’s priorities so that certain classes of individuals would be protected from deportation. The institute noted that it’s not possible to model future cases, so it looked at numbers from 2003 to 2013. During that period, there were 2.9 million removals of undocumented immigrants, although if authorities strictly adhered to current policy, about 191,000 removals would have been avoided, making that number closer to 2.7 million.


Obviously, there are quite a few directions Obama could take. In addition to these individual options for deportations, he could also implement any combination of them. If he decided to relax deportations for those convicted exclusively of traffic crimes or for “recent entries” who have been here longer than a year, 248,000 deportations would have been avoided. If he relaxed the rules for those convicted exclusively of nonviolent crimes, “recent entries” present more than a year or people with orders issued more than 10 years ago, 538,000 removals would have been avoided. (In both scenarios, people might fall into more than one category.)

Given that there are 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. as of 2012, the fact that White House officials are reporting that 3.6 million will be eligible for legal work documents is significant. But that number is only a baseline. Depending on the scope of the plan, Obama’s executive action could affect nearly 5 million people.

Hayley Munguia is a former social media editor and a data reporter for FiveThirtyEight.