The importance of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy
The Trump administration’s decision to (sort of) rescind DACA, despite formally announcing in June that the policy will temporarily remain intact epitomizes the contentious nature of the age-old question: Who is American?
While undocumented immigration may seem like a contemporary phenomenon, it is important to acknowledge that shifts in migration policy have defined the man-made differences between legal versus illegal migration. Recent outrage on both Democratic and Republican fronts of the president’s decision to pardon former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio and roll back DACA, speak to how the question of who belongs is not as simple as having a piece of paper.
The majority of Americans polled agree that “Dreamers” should be allowed to stay and become citizens if they meet certain requirements. Many arrived as infants and consider English their native language and the United States the only home they have ever known. It is naïve of the President and Trump supporters to believe that rescinding DACA will not have adverse effects on US schools, the economy, and a social commitment to inclusion. Removing 800,000 individuals from the formal labor market is projected to cost billions of dollars in employee turnover and termination costs. In New York State there are close to 38,000 DACA recipients as diverse as the city in which most of them thrive. At CUNY alone, there are thousands of undocumented students and hundreds of DACA recipients who are not only academically ambitious but high-performing. The majority of DACA students are able to excel in school due to the platform DACA provides to receive private scholarships and fund their education.
Although little is known about who DACA recipients are, we know they have overcome the impoverished environments they inherited from their parents to become successful contributors. All reports indicate their contributions to work, community, and to our social security funds and taxes are necessary. They receive few benefits in return. They are not like the typical undocumented. They are highly educated. Their current and future earnings and buying power can fuel communities.
It is also naïve to think that DACA recipients, who are on average 22 years old, adversely affect the employment prospects and wages of other American workers. The majority of DACA recipients are still in school. The Migration Policy Institute reports that the DACA eligible comprise just 1.3% of the 48.9 million people ages 16 to 32 in the labor force in 2014. The small number suggest that they are unlikely to have an impact on other US workers. They do not take away jobs.
Furthermore, the conservative rhetoric of immigrants taking American jobs is not a DACA issue; it is a question of economic structure and the decline of industrial America and the vanishing working class. A significant number of DACA recipients, despite coming from poverty, are or will be college-educated and will not be competing for the types of jobs the scapegoat rhetoric speaks to.
Moreover, as policy we should allow young people to come forward instead of hiding in the shadows. By allowing them to step forward, going through extensive background checks, and providing them with DACA, we should also give them a path to citizenship.
Margaret Chin’s father came to the United States in 1937 at the age of 12 as a “paper son.” He went to school, was in the army for WWII, and got married to a war bride. Not until he confessed that he was really “undocumented” did his status get regulated and he became a US citizen under his own name.
We should do the same for these young people.
Hyein Lee is in the sociology program CUNY Graduate Center and a research analyst at CUNY’s Office of Research, Evaluation & Program Support. Her research and work focus on undocumented students in higher education. Margaret Chin is in the sociology departments at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of Sewing Women: Immigrants in the New York City Garment Industry.