Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, has positively affected the lives of more than 741,000 youth. The initiative, announced by President Barack Obama in June 2012, grants temporary deportation relief and work authorization to eligible people who came to the United States at a young age. Since its inception, DACA has enabled hundreds of thousands of these DREAMers to improve their lives and the lives of their families, as well as make significant contributions to American society.
DACA has a positive impact on the lives of unauthorized youth
After years of living in a limbo in which DREAMers could not participate in many of the roles that define adulthood—such as being able to legally work or drive in most states—DACA has allowed unauthorized youth to take control of a number of critical aspects of their lives. According to a 2016 survey by Tom K. Wong, assistant professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego; United We Dream; the National Immigration Law Center; and the Center for American Progress, 60 percent of DACA recipients reported that the increased wages associated with DACA have helped them become more financially independent. Furthermore, approximately 90 percent of survey respondents reported getting their first driver’s license or state identification card. Having an ID enables DACA recipients to feel more secure in the United States by allowing them to open up bank accounts and drive to school or work without fear of being detained and potentially deported.
Furthermore, DACA beneficiaries have taken advantage of the opportunities that the initiative has made available. Ninety-two percent of survey respondents reported that because of DACA, they were able to pursue educational opportunities they previously could not attempt. Their hard work and determination have not gone unnoticed: University and college presidents have spoken out about the vital role these students play. Following President-elect Donald Trump’s vow to cancel the DACA initiative, which would place recipients at risk of deportation, hundreds of college presidents signed a statement in support of the program. The statement said in part that “DACA beneficiaries on our campuses have been exemplary student scholars and student leaders, working across campus and in the community.” For these college presidents, DACA has had “highly positive impacts on [their] institutions and communities.”
Among those who signed the statement is Michael McRobbie, president of Indiana University. During a meeting with the university’s board of trustees, McRobbie reiterated the statement’s message: “To our country’s leaders we say that DACA should be upheld, continued, and expanded.” Emphasizing his support of the program’s continuation, he stressed that “Immigration has been one of the fundamental strengths of American society and democracy since its founding, enriching it and providing the freedom for the most talented to succeed and prosper.”
DACA benefits all Americans through recipients’ contributions to the U.S. economy
With DACA, hundreds of thousands of unauthorized youth have been able to participate in the formal economy and contribute to all of its sectors. In fact, the largest number of beneficiaries work in the educational and health services and nonprofit sectors. In addition, 63 percent of respondents to the 2016 survey moved to a job with better pay, and beneficiaries’ average hourly wages increased by 42 percent after receiving DACA.
Moreover, DACA has led to greater higher education accessibility, which in turn means that recipients acquire more skills and training. Seventy percent of student respondents to the survey are pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher. And gaining more education generally means higher earnings: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, people with a bachelor’s degree earned approximately 68 percent more per week than people with only a high school diploma. More education and higher earnings benefit not only DACA recipients but also the United States as a whole, as they mean greater tax contributions to critical programs that older Americans rely on, including Medicare and Social Security.
DACA has also enabled recipients to spur economic growth within local economies. After receiving DACA, 54 percent of respondents purchased their first car, which results in increased state revenue through collected taxes. Furthermore, 12 percent of respondents purchased their first home. This is especially important: According to the National Association of Realtors, approximately one job is created for every two home sales, and each home sale contributes about $60,000 to the U.S gross domestic product, or GDP.
After years of congressional inaction on immigration reform, DACA has been a source of hope for many DREAMers. Both Republicans and Democrats have come together in an effort to protect these youth from deportation. In fact, in December of this year, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) stated, “I’ve talked to a number of my colleagues on the floor, on both sides of the aisle about this, and there are strong emotions in favor of helping these young people.” Sen. Durbin, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), just introduced the BRIDGE, or Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy, Act, which would protect recipients and DACA-eligible individuals for three years. While the bill falls short of providing permanent protection, it recognizes, as Sen. Graham argued, that “these young people have much to offer the country and we stand to benefit from the many contributions they will make to America.” It is now up to Congress to pass this much-needed bill.
Dismantling DACA—as the president-elect has promised to do—would wipe away at least $433.4 billion from the U.S. GDP over a decade and would put more than 741,000 people at risk of deportation. Given the advancements and contributions these youth have made to American society over the past four years, the next administration should not roll back the progress that so many people—and the country as a whole—have made.
Stephanie Andrade is an intern with the Immigration Policy team at the Center for American Progress.