A New Threat to DACA Could Cost States Billions of Dollars

In this June 15, 2012 photo, undocumented immigrants who live in Maryland, hold signs saying "Thank You President Obama" in Washington, D.C.

Over the course of its five-year history, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), has changed the lives of nearly 800,000 young people who have lived in the United States since their childhood. By providing the opportunity for individuals to come forward, pass rigorous background checks, and obtain permission to live and work in the United States lawfully, DACA has helped its recipients achieve milestones typically associated with the American dream, such as pursuing higher education, earning better wages to support their families, and buying homes. Nearly 8 in 10 voters support allowing DREAMers to remain permanently in the country, including almost three-quarters of Trump voters, and only 14 percent believe they should be forced to leave.

But despite the benefits of the popular program, DACA is now facing a dangerous new attack. In late June, officials from 10 states led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an ultimatum to the Trump administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions: End the DACA program by September 5 or face a lawsuit in front of the same federal judge who halted a separate initiative that would have provided similar temporary protections to the parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. If DACA ends—whether because the administration accedes to the demands of DACA opponents or the initiative is enjoined by a federal court—hundreds of thousands of young people will be forced out of the workforce, upending their lives and the lives of their families, creating tremendous disruption for businesses, and sending shockwaves through the economies of most states.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), 787,580 people received DACA through March 2017. The data presented in this column update previous columns from November 2016 and January 2017, accounting for the additional DACA applicants that were approved since their publications.

Using data from two Center for American Progress publications—a report that estimates the gross domestic product (GDP) declines that would accompany removing all unauthorized workers from the country and a survey that estimates the share of DACA recipients who are employed—CAP estimates that ending DACA would result in a loss of $460.3 billion from the national GDP over the next decade. Ending DACA would remove an estimated 685,000 workers from the nation’s economy.

Altogether, the 10 states demanding that the Trump administration end DACA—Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina, and West Virginia—stand to lose more than $8 billion annually in state GDP if they get their wish.

The present threat to those with DACA is real. Moreover, because DACA recipients are so well integrated into families, communities, schools, and workplaces throughout the country, the economic and social effects of ending DACA would be widespread and significant. In the short term, the fate of DACA rests entirely in the hands of President Donald Trump, who has at times expressed great support for DREAMers and has encouraged them to “rest easy.” But ultimately, it is Congress that must act to provide a permanent solution so that these young people can contribute even more fully to the country they call home. Yesterday’s introduction of the DREAM Act of 2017, which has bipartisan sponsorship from Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), is an encouraging step.

Methodology

This column uses the same methodology employed in CAP’s November 2016 and January 2017 estimates of the cost of ending DACA.

The USCIS publishes quarterly data on DACA applicants and recipients since the program’s beginning in 2012. In addition to national numbers, the USCIS also provides state-level data.

An October 2016 survey of DACA recipients—conducted by political scientist Tom K. Wong, United We Dream, the National Immigration Law Center, and CAP—estimated that nationally, 87 percent of DACA recipients were employed. The survey does not provide employment rates for individual states. Thus, this column uses the 87 percent benchmark for employment levels in each state.

The number of DACA recipients working in each state is a combination of the latest USCIS data and the survey findings.

A 2016 CAP report authored by Ryan Edwards and Francesc Ortega estimated the national and state-by-state GDP loss that would result from removing unauthorized workers from the workforce, both annually and over the next decade. This column uses the GDP loss and number of unauthorized workers by each state to identify the contributions of each unauthorized worker to the state GDP. By both assuming that the skill distribution of the workforce with DACA reflects that of the broader unauthorized workforce and expressing data in 2013 dollars, this analysis reflects a conservative estimate.

The GDP losses associated with ending DACA for each state are derived by multiplying the number of employed DACA recipients with the losses associated with each unauthorized worker.

Nicole Prchal Svajlenka is a senior policy analyst for the Immigration Policy team at the Center for American Progress. Tom Jawetz is vice president for Immigration Policy at the Center. Angie Bautista-Chavez is an intern for the Immigration Policy team at the Center.