Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced today that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will be phased out over the next six months, but most of its beneficiaries say they are likely to remain here unless they are forced to leave.
“Getting our things and leaving, that’s the easy way out,” said Susanna Torrones, a DACA beneficiary. Prior to today’s announcement, Torrones was asked in a LA Times article about finding a new country to call home. “We could have done that a long time ago. We’re going to find a way. I still believe in the American Dream.”
Even though DACA is ending, those whom it protected will determine how to carry on in the only country they’ve known. DACA recipients are resourceful and resilient and have already successfully advocated for their right to pursue the American Dream.
Nearly 800,000 people have benefited from the DACA program, an executive order issued by President Obama in 2012 to protect undocumented immigrants who arrived as children. When DACA was announced, the age range for applying was between 15 and 31, but applicants tended to be on the younger end. The temporary program offered protection from deportation and authorization to work. Now, beneficiaries are obtaining education, furthering their careers, and building their lives in America. In other words, they are making the transitions and preparations others make in that age range.
In June, a Texas-led coalition of attorneys general and government officials (including one governor) from 10 states wrote a letter to President Trump, threatening to sue the administration if he did not rescind the DACA program by September 5.
What have DACA recipients accomplished since the policy began?
One of the most comprehensive studies of DACA-eligible youth found that DACA recipients have drastically improved their outlook since the policy was enacted. DACA recipients have earned high school diplomas and college degrees, have obtained drivers’ licenses and legal employment, and some are saving for or have purchased a home. This activity has boosted our country’s economic growth, which benefits all Americans.
By granting its recipients work permits, DACA has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to move from working off the books into high-paying jobs in rewarding careers, which has boosted state and federal tax revenues. Another recent study found that 91 percent of 3,063 DACA recipients surveyed are employed, and 69 percent of the respondents used DACA to move to a job with better pay. The study also found that at least 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies employ DACA recipients.
Few DACA recipients have been removed from the country. Since President Trump took office, 43 former DACA recipients have been deported, and another 676 face deportation, although many of these cases are holdovers from the Obama administration. Nevertheless, the rate of deportations has risen under the current administration, and some cases raise questions as to whether DACA recipients are being treated fairly.
Ending DACA’s protections will disrupt families and local economies
DACA recipients have spent most of their lives in this country, and home to them is in their US communities.
Considering that many DACA recipients have obtained degrees and well-paying jobs, many educational institutions and businesses may be forced to turn away current members of their community or turn a blind eye to the law. That’s why letters urging President Trump to maintain the program and pressing Congress to take up bipartisan legislation have arrived from hundreds of business leaders and civic, government, and faith leaders and why the Tennessee attorney general has withdrawn his support for the lawsuit that threatens to end the program.
The Trump administration will end the DACA program within six months to give Congress a window of opportunity to pass a law. Speaker Paul Ryan has acknowledged that the opportunity to solve this issue now lies in the hands of Congress.
A bipartisan bill introduced in Congress this year would grant conditional permanent residency to those with DACA (and certain other immigrants with precarious status) who have not engaged in conduct that would make them inadmissible. After eight years and demonstrating schooling in higher education, work, or military service, the conditions on the green card would be removed. Eventually, they would have the opportunity to apply for US citizenship, after meeting certain conditions.
Through their words and actions, DACA beneficiaries have demonstrated their desire to contribute to our country. “I love America,” said Susana Torrones. “We want to stay here. We want to be successful here.”
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The Urban Institute podcast, Evidence in Action, inspires changemakers to lead with evidence and act with equity. Co-hosted by Urban President Sarah Rosen Wartell and Executive Vice President Kimberlyn Leary, every episode features in-depth discussions with experts and leaders on topics ranging from how to advance equity, to designing innovative solutions that achieve community impact, to what it means to practice evidence-based leadership.