Center for American Progress

RELEASE: 2021 Survey of DACA Recipients Underscores the Importance of a Pathway to Citizenship
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RELEASE: 2021 Survey of DACA Recipients Underscores the Importance of a Pathway to Citizenship

Washington, D.C. — For years, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has protected hundreds of thousands of undocumented young immigrants from deportation and allowed them to pursue their dreams in the United States. However, DACA is not a permanent solution: Undocumented immigrants need a path to citizenship to be fully secure in their homes and lives, and it is past time for Congress to act and ensure those permanent protections. This is the main result of a new survey published today by 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.

In its seventh edition, the survey confirmed research from previous years illustrating the significant contributions that DACA recipients are making to the U.S. economy and their communities, with approximately 9 out of every 10 respondents currently employed or enrolled in school. However, 2021 survey results also show that amid the backdrop of continued uncertainty around the program’s future and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the gains made possible through the program are vulnerable.

Even with legal challenges threatening its future, DACA remains a critical lifeline for hundreds of thousands of people. The 2021 survey results make it abundantly clear why Congress must take immediate action to permanently protect DACA recipients—as well as people who have been unable to access the program due to the legal challenges—by providing them a pathway to citizenship.

DACA recipients could face widespread harm if they lose their status, including a high risk of potential detention, deportation, and family separation. Major concerns for them are as follows:

  • An overwhelming 91.6 percent of respondents reported concerns about either their own or their family’s physical safety, ability to access health care or education, food security, or risk of homelessness if they were deported to their respective countries of birth.
  • 40.1 percent of respondents reported that at least once a day, they think about either being detained in an immigration detention facility or deported from the United States.
  • 48.6 percent reported that they think at least once a day about a family member being detained or deported.
  • Among those with children, 68.8 percent reported that they think at least once a day about “being separated from [their] children because of deportation.”
  • 68.3 percent reported thinking at least once a day about “not being able to see [their] children grow up because of deportation.”

DACA has also provided work authorization to more than 830,000 undocumented young people across the country. Key findings about the program’s impacts on employment include:

  • 8 out of every 10 respondents—79.8 percent—are currently employed. Among respondents ages 25 and older, the employment rate jumps to 86.4 percent.
  • 43.8 percent of respondents moved to a job with better pay.
  • 35.4 percent of respondents moved to a job with better working conditions.
  • 34.3 percent of respondents moved to a job that “better fits [their] education and training.”
  • 37 percent of respondents moved to a job that “better fits [their] long-term career goals.”
  • 43.3 percent of respondents moved to a job with health insurance or other benefits.
  • 12.9 percent of respondents obtained professional licenses after receiving DACA, a figure that increases to 15.7 percent for respondents ages 25 and older.

The 2021 survey makes clear that DACA has a positive and significant effect on wages, as well as the economy as a whole:

  • Respondents’ average hourly wage more than doubled from $10.94 to $22.90—a gain of 109.3 percent.
  • 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.
  • The data also show that respondents’ average annual earnings come out to approximately $52,700, while their median annual earnings total $47,000.
  • 62.6 percent of respondents reported that their increased earnings have “helped [them] become financially independent.”
  • 61.1 percent reported that their increased earnings have “helped [their] family financially.”
  • 24.9 percent reported that their increased earnings have “helped [them] take care of an elderly parent or relative.”
  • Among respondents currently in school, 52.3 percent reported that their increased earnings helped pay for tuition, and among respondents with children, 37.8 percent reported that their increased earnings helped pay for child care expenses.
  • 50.6 percent of respondents reported buying their first car after receiving DACA.
  • 16.5 percent of respondents purchased their first home after receiving DACA. Among respondents ages 25 and older, this figure increases to 21.4 percent.

The program has also been critical to recipients’ education, improving their lives. Key findings are as follows:

  • 31.8 percent of respondents are currently in school, a large majority—68 percent—of whom are pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • 44.7 percent of respondents currently not in school reported already having a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Importantly, among those who are currently in school, a robust 60.3 percent said that because of DACA, “[They] pursued educational opportunities that [they] previously could not.”

“DACA recipients, like many Americans, are being hard hit by the pandemic. But recipients must navigate the pandemic while also living under the continued legal and political uncertainty surrounding DACA. The data show that this is taking a toll on their economic and broader societal integration, which adds urgency to providing permanent legal status to DACA recipients,” said Tom K. Wong, 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 CAP.

Karen Fierro Ruiz, DACA recipient and advocacy and policy coordinator at United We Dream, said:

Our most recent DACA survey irrefutably affirms that millions need and deserve permanent relief through a pathway to citizenship. For years, immigrant youth have lived with the reality that DACA is not enough. Whether it is the fact that millions do not qualify for the program or the ongoing uncertainty surrounding DACA’s future in the courts, it is clear that our communities face risk and harm in the form of detention and deportation without permanent protections. With the number of deportations and expulsions surpassing 1.8 million under the Biden administration, deportation isn’t merely a threat; it is a lived reality for far too many in our communities, and it must end now. The only way to truly provide relief for DACA recipients and all undocumented people is through a pathway to citizenship. President Joe Biden and Congress must act now to deliver a broad and inclusive pathway to citizenship that leaves no person behind.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director at the National Immigration Law Center, added:

DACA is a transformative policy that continues to be a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth and their loved ones, but it is no replacement for a permanent solution. As this survey underscores, the urgency to provide lasting stability for immigrant youth is greater than ever. We urge Senate Democrats to exercise their majority power to create a pathway to citizenship for immigrant youth and millions more who call the United States home.

Nicole Prchal Svajlenka, associate director for research on the Immigration Policy team at CAP, added:

Year after year, the results are clear: DACA is crucial for individual recipients, families, and communities across the United States. But only a pathway to citizenship will yield the permanent protections that DACA recipients—and all undocumented immigrants—deserve.

The survey was conducted from September 8 to November 5, 2021, by the authors. It includes 1,021 DACA recipients in 40 states as well as Washington, D.C.

Read the column:2021 Survey of DACA Recipients Underscores the Importance of a Pathway to Citizenship” by Tom K. Wong, Claudia Flores, Ignacia Rodriguez Kmec, Karen Fierro Ruiz, and Nicole Prchal Svajlenka

To view the full survey results, visit this link.

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, please contact Claudia Montecinos at cmontecinos@americanprogress.org.

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