Dreaming in America
On June 15th, 2012, President Barack Obama announced a new program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This program, established through executive order, aimed to allow individuals who were brought to the United States as young children to be able to apply for deferred deportations, and be allowed to work in the United States. There is no pathway to citizenship as DACA stands today. The Supreme Court is expected to decide on the legality of the matter at some point in 2020 within a matter of weeks, if not days, from this article posting.
Similar Historical Programs
President Dwight D. Eisenhower enacted a program to allow temporary legal status to over 600,000 Cubans during the 1950’s and 1960’s. President Ronald Reagan allowed 1.5 Million undocumented immigrants to remain, and so did President George H.W. Bush (NPR).
The key difference between those programs and DACA was that DACA allowed for work authorization, tax credits, and social security benefits for those who qualified. Based on the most recently available data, there are currently 661,000 DACA recipients. And in order to be a part of DACA, you must have arrived in the United States before turning 16, and have lived here since 2007 (USCIS).
In 2001, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, was proposed in congress. This bill would enact a process for granting residency status to qualifying undocumented minors, and eventually, permanent residency. The original bill was introduced by Republican Orrin Hatch and Democrat Dick Durbin and has never passed. This is where the term “Dreamers” comes from.
The Immigration and Nationality Act, or INA, was passed back in 1952 and has been amended multiple times. Sweeping adjustments to the law over the years included adding preferences for skilled immigrants, eliminating national origin as quotas, and making employers not knowingly employ undocumented immigrants. This law also allows for undocumented veterans to gain a pathway to naturalization (USCIS). There have been recent attempts at legislation proposed to update INA to help undocumented veterans gain American citizenship more easily.
From 2013 to 2018, 250 US military veterans faced deportation, with a total of 92 being deported. Out of the 92 veterans deported, 85% of them were legal permanent residents. Some of these individuals had felonies, which was the main factor for deportation (WBEZ).
The Economic Boost
Just last year, there were 1.5 million people in DACA recipient households which paid $2.3 billion in rent, and $613.8 million in mortgage payments, plus approximately $5.7 billion in federal taxes and $3.1 billion in other taxes (NBC). To apply for DACA, an individual must pay a fee, and meet very stringent criteria. DACA recipients cannot vote, and are not eligible for federal student loans. This may partially explain why DACA recipients generally attend college and graduate college at lower rates than average Americans (MPI). Currently, DACA recipients do have the ability in many states to pay in-state tuition costs, which greatly brings down the cost of school. DACA recipients are also not eligible for SNAP benefits or federal unemployment benefits, amongst other things.
The Economic Cost
An argument typically made is that although DACA recipients, or DREAMers at large do contribute to the economy, there is a cost to citizens who may be missing out on an economic opportunity. If someone immigrated legally to the United States, or was born in the United States, is it fair that someone who did not follow these steps, or has the background, gets the same opportunity? The actual cost of running DACA as a program is barely covered, and borderline unclear, by the revenue generated through application fees (The Hill). The Department of Homeland Security had told Congress that no funds are taken from other departments to pay for DACA overhead. If they did, then that would mean resources are taken away from actual legal immigration and would increase wait times for those individuals.
When President Obama enacted DACA, it was a temporary fix for an issue that requires a massive legislative effort to actually solve. There is an obvious issue with the massive group of people who were brought here as undocumented children, through no fault of their own, and who only know this country. The United States is an incredible country for seeking opportunity, and it makes sense why so many people want to come here.
The only way to fix this ethical problem is for Congress to take decisive legislative action, and pass the DREAM Act in some capacity, to finally allow these people to never worry about deportation again by granting a pathway to citizenship for all who qualify. If the hanging cloud of deportation is wiped from the minds of these people, their economic contributions could increase, more would likely attend college, and job prospects would probably expand not only for the DREAMers but for all Americans. It is rightly American to be compassionate for the people who have done nothing wrong.
At the same time, the process to become a legal immigrant needs to be made more accessible so that we do not see so many folks who come to this country undocumented in the first place.
Granting citizenship once does not solve the larger problem. And we need to be fair to individuals who have been waiting a long time to get their citizenship granted through the existing proper channels. These people are leaving places of wars, gangs, and severe economic issues. The economic benefits of these folks are remarkable considering they are not eligible for most forms of assistance and many types of jobs. Let’s do the right thing, and welcome our neighbors to the neighborhood. What is more American than that?
- Tyler, The National Watch