Today marks the five year anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that has provided vital relief to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who came to the United States as children. I wish we could jubilantly celebrate and toast to this half-decade milestone. Instead, we are fighting to keep the program alive and protect Dreamers from shortsighted proposals that would abruptly terminate the program.
It was always our understanding that DACA was a stop-gap measure, not intended to provide a comprehensive or permanent solution. Rather, it was thought (and hoped) to serve as triage and provide interim relief to young individuals until immigration reform materialized in Congress.
DACA provides qualified individuals two years of work authorization and protection from deportation. To qualify, applicants must demonstrate that they have no serious criminal history, that they pose no threat to national security, that they entered the United States prior to their 16th birthday and have lived continuously in the U.S. since 2007, and that they meet minimum educational standards. DACA does not provide a permanent option for Dreamers, but they can renew every two years so long as they continue to meet the requirements.
When President Obama announced DACA on June 15, 2012, I was thrilled. There was a momentum toward immigration reform in Congress, which is what we really needed, but in the meantime it was something that could help Dreamers. Over the summer, thousands of bright young minds compiled their paperwork to ensure they were ready as soon as the program opened. And on August 15, 2012, the program went live. Dreamers had been waiting their whole lives to pursue the American dream and eagerly submitted their applications. And for them, it was just the beginning.
The vast majority of Dreamers did not choose to come here and certainly did not elect to violate any immigration laws. The DACA program was a reflection of the national consensus – immigrants brought to the U.S. as children should not be penalized. On July 21, 2017, Fortune reported that 78% of American voters support giving Dreamers a path to stay permanently in the U.S.
One of my first DACA clients was brought to the U.S. as a one-month-old. He told me, “The only thing I ever did wrong was being born on the wrong side of the border.” This is the only country he has ever known. And his story is not an anomaly. Many of my DACA clients have no memory of their country of birth, do not speak, read, or write the predominant language in their home country, and have no family outside the United States. Prior to August 2012, there were no immigration options for Dreamers. Coming forward, out of the shadows, was a momentous and celebratory time for these young men and women and I am eternally grateful to have been a part of their stories.
Now, however, those who currently hold DACA are in limbo. During the campaign, then-candidate Trump vowed to end the program. Since he took office in January, he has refrained from detailing his plans for the initiative. Dreamers were (and are) understandably confused on what their future holds. Should they renew their DACA if the program is in imminent danger of being taken away? Will the Administration target Dreamers for deportation?
Over the past five years, I have worked on hundreds of DACA cases. Beyond the profound betrayal of almost 800,000 young people, termination of the DACA program would have serious practical considerations. Not only is protecting Dreamers the right thing to do morally, it makes economic sense. Without any protections or plan in place, Dreamers and their employers will face grim consequences. According to the Center for American Progress, eliminating DACA would cause a $433.4 billion loss from our GDP within a decade. Since 2012, Dreamers have pursued education and training programs that facilitate higher paying jobs. In turn, they receive higher wages and grow the overall economy.
According to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), 87% of DACA recipients are employed and eight percent of those not working are in school. The turnover costs estimated by ILRC for companies to replace their DACA employees exceed $3.4 billion and removing Dreamers from the workforce will slash Social Security and Medicare tax contributions by $24.6 billion over the next decade. As a result, termination of DACA would upend families and create tremendous business and economic disruptions.
Recently, several options have been introduced in Congress including the Dream Act of 2017 and the American Hope Act of 2017. The proposed legislation is a promising step in the right direction, but we must protect the DACA program until a bill passes. DACA is under imminent threat and even if this legislation comes to fruition, it is unlikely to be in time for Dreamers if DACA is gone.
And DACA could disappear as soon as next month. Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton and nine other state attorneys general (Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Tennessee, South Carolina and West Virginia) recently issued an ultimatum to the Department of Justice (DOJ): rescind DACA or we will sue you on September 5. If their threat works, those state economies will cumulatively lose $8 billion annually, according to the Center for American Progress. But we would all lose out.
I wish I could believe that our president will stand with the national consensus and protect Dreamers. But we don’t know what will happen, so we all need to speak out. Tell the stories of DACA grantees. Ask employers and community members to share their experiences and lift up their voices. And I invite DACA opponents (especially the 10 state attorneys general) to listen to the downright inspiring stories of Dreamers. It’s easy to dehumanize, overgeneralize and draw flawed conclusions to justify longstanding anti-immigrant sentiments and ideals. But we don’t need to “wait and see” what Dreamers bring to our nation. Over the past five years, Dreamers have demonstrated perseverance, hard work, and deep community roots that improve and strengthen our country. Targeting and deporting them would be both morally repugnant and a gross waste of our resources. DACA recipients are our neighbors, colleagues, friends and family. They are the most inspiring group I have ever encountered and the absolute epitome of the American dream. I will always proudly stand with them in solidarity, on the right side of history.