New DHS Policy Threatens To Undo Gains Made by DACA Recipients

Student immigration activists participate in a rally defending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after they walked out from area high schools and universities, November 8, 2019, in Washington, D.C.

To view the full survey results, visit this link.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative has provided temporary relief from deportation as well as work authorization to approximately 826,000 undocumented young people across the United States since first being enacted in 2012. But despite the Supreme Court’s June ruling rejecting the Trump administration’s termination of DACA—and a federal judge’s order mandating that Trump administration restore DACA fully and begin accepting new, first-time applicants—the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) partially rescinded DACA again in a July 28, 2020, memo. In the memo, DHS announced that it would reject new applications and only grant one-year renewals.

From August 18 to September 10, 2020, Tom K. Wong of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at the University of California, San Diego; United We Dream; the National Immigration Law Center; and the Center for American Progress fielded a national survey to analyze the experiences of DACA recipients since the start of the initiative. This study includes 1,157 DACA recipients in 44 states and Washington, D.C.

This research, as with the five previous annual surveys, continues to show that DACA recipients are contributing significantly to society and the economy, with 91.7 percent of respondents indicating that they are currently employed or in school. This year, the survey provides new insights into how DHS’ recent policy changes could potentially undo the gains that DACA recipients have made.

DACA’s impact on employment

Work authorization has been instrumental in ensuring that DACA recipients can participate more fully in the U.S. labor force. Among survey respondents, 88.5 percent are currently employed. The employment rate increases slightly to 89.1 percent among respondents who are ages 25 and older.

After receiving DACA:

  • 63.2 percent of respondents reported moving to a job with better pay.
  • 52.8 percent reported moving to a job with better working conditions.
  • 52.6 percent reported moving to a job that “better fits my education and training.”
  • 54.5 percent reported moving to a job that “better fits my long-term career goals.”
  • 59 percent reported moving to a job with health insurance or other benefits.

DACA recipients continue to outpace the general population in terms of business creation rates. The 2020 survey shows that 6.1 percent of respondents started their own businesses after receiving DACA. Among respondents 25 years old and older, this increases to 7 percent. Moreover, 16.7 percent reported obtaining professional licenses after receiving DACA. This increases to 18.3 percent among respondents ages 25 and older.

DACA’s impact on earnings

The several years of DACA surveys, including this 2020 survey, illustrate that DACA has a positive, significant effect on wages. The average hourly wage of respondents increased by 110.9 percent after receiving DACA, from $11.80 per hour to $24.88 per hour. These higher wages have persisted even during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is explained, in part, by a large percentage of DACA recipients who have continued to work during the pandemic as essential workers, as is shown in the second part of the survey results. These higher wages are not just important for recipients and their families but also for tax revenues and economic growth at the local, state, and federal levels.

DACA has given recipients and their families greater financial independence and security:

  • A full 83.7 percent of respondents reported that increased earnings have “helped me become financially independent.”
  • 83.5 percent reported that increased earnings have “helped my family financially.”
  • 29.6 percent reported that increased earnings have “helped me take care of an elderly parent or relative.”
  • Among respondents currently in school, 86.4 percent reported that their increased earnings helped pay for tuition.
  • 53.9 percent reported that their increased earnings have helped pay for medical expenses.

The data also show that DACA recipients have been on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than half of survey respondents who are currently employed, 57.7 percent, reported, “I have continued to work during the COVID-19 pandemic due to being an essential worker.” However, among these respondents, 14 percent also reported that their employer has not given them personal protective equipment (PPE).

DACA’s impact on the economy

The purchasing power of DACA recipients continues to increase year over year. For example, 65.1 percent of respondents reported purchasing their first car after receiving DACA. These large purchases matter in terms of state revenue, bringing in sales tax, registration fees, and title fees. This is not to mention the safety benefits of more drivers licensed and insured.

In addition, 20.4 percent of respondents reported purchasing their first home after receiving DACA. Among respondents 25 years old and older, this rises to 25.2 percent. Home purchases have a number of positive effects, including the creation of jobs and the infusion of new spending in local economies. The data also show that 8 in 10 recipients who took out a home loan to buy their house have more than 20 years left on their mortgage. This speaks to the long-term reliance interests—how recipients have come to rely on the continuing existing of DACA in their everyday lives and the commitments they have already made—that they have in being able to continue supporting their families and communities.

DACA’s impact on education

Overall, 30.4 percent of respondents are currently attending school, a full 76.4 of whom are pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher. Among respondents who stated that they are currently in school, a robust 91.8 percent said that DACA allowed them to pursue “educational opportunities that [they] previously could not.” Meanwhile, 42.8 percent of respondents reported already having a bachelor’s degree or higher.

New DHS memo may undo DACA recipients’ economic and educational gains

Despite a Supreme Court ruling that blocked the administration’s 2017 efforts to end DACA, the Trump administration has continued its attacks on the initiative. On July 28, 2020, DHS announced that it would reject all initial requests for DACA and related requests for employment authorization, grant requests for advance parole for international travel only in exceptional circumstances, and limit grants of deferred action and work authorization to one year rather than two years. The memo’s validity is the subject of ongoing litigation.

The survey data show that limiting grants of deferred action and work authorization to one year has the potential to undo the gains that DACA recipients have made. More than half of respondents who are currently employed, 57.5 percent, said that having only one year of DACA instead of two “makes it more difficult for me to keep my job.” Moreover, more than 40 percent of respondents who are currently attending college said that having one year of DACA “makes it more difficult for me to stay in college.”

Having a single year of deferred action requires DACA recipients to pay to renew their status every year. The cost to renew DACA remains $495, but DHS’ recent change effectively doubles the cost and places the burden on DACA recipients to renew every year. A full 65.7 percent of respondents said, “The cost of applying to renew my DACA every year would be too much for me to afford.”

The ability to pay DACA-related fees has long been an obstacle for many DACA recipients, and at a time when many are facing unprecedented financial hardship due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis, this additional yearly fee could hinder eligible individuals from applying, putting at risk their employment authorization and protection from deportation.

Paying DACA renewal fees every year also compounds existing issues related to DACA renewal processing times. Renewing DACA has, in some cases, taken up to 11.5 months.* Per the July 28, DHS memorandum, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) states, “DACA recipients should file their renewal request between 150 and 120 days before their current grant of DACA expires,” with requests submitted earlier than 150 days generally rejected. Among the survey respondents, 8.5 percent reported that their last DACA renewal application took six months or longer to process. USCIS is struggling to meet its goal of processing DACA renewal requests within 120 days, and limiting DACA recipients’ ability to request renewal with more than 150 days left before expiration increases the risk that their deferred action and work authorization could lapse. If these trends persist, 54,700 recipients  out of the nearly 650,000 people with DACA could see their DACA lapse despite seeking renewal during the advised 150 to 120 day window.

Conclusion

The findings discussed above continue to show that DACA has improved the well-being of recipients and their families and has been important for the U.S. economy, as well as for U.S. society more broadly. However, these findings also highlight how the Trump administration’s latest rollback of DACA protections—in particular, limiting recipients to only one year of deferred action and work authorization and protection from deportation—could undo the economic and educational gains that DACA recipients have made. 

Tom K. Wong is associate professor of political science and founding director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at the University of California, San Diego, and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Sanaa Abrar is advocacy director and Juliana Macedo do Nascimento is state and local policy manager at United We Dream. Ignacia Rodriguez Kmec is immigration policy advocate at the National Immigration Law Center. Tom Jawetz is vice president for Immigration Policy, Claudia Flores is the immigration campaign manager, and Philip E. Wolgin is managing director for Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress.

The authors thank all those who took and shared the survey for their time and effort in helping bring these stories to light. Wong would also like to thank Maya Lu for her research assistance.

* Processing times are based on choosing Form I-821D: Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the Vermont Service Center on the following source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “Check Case Processing Times,” available at https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/ (last accessed September 2020).

Methodology

The questionnaire was administered to an online panel of DACA recipients recruited by the partner organizations. Several steps were taken to account for the known sources of bias that result from such online panels. To prevent ballot stuffing—one person submitting multiple responses—the authors did not offer an incentive to respondents for taking the questionnaire and used a state-of-the-art online survey platform, Qualtrics, that does not allow one IP address to submit multiple responses. To prevent spoiled ballots—meaning, people responding who are not undocumented—the authors used two validation tests for undocumented status. Multiple questions were asked about each respondent’s migratory history and DACA application history. These questions were asked at different parts of the questionnaire. When repeated, the questions were posed using different wording. If there was agreement in the answers such that there was consistency regarding the respondent’s migratory history and DACA application history, the respondent was kept in the resulting pool of respondents. If not, the respondent was excluded.