DACA: Undocumented kids, uncertain futures

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Since it was founded, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has been defined by a singular mission statement—to secure America’s promise as a nation of immigrants. Yet, just last month, the Trump administration revised the USCIS’s mission statement to lawful enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws. Against the backdrop of the recent controversy surrounding immigration (what ever happened to that wall?), this begs the question of how America fits into the world order. The answer is that it shouldn’t have to change. In order to maintain its status as a compassionate and opportunity-filled nation of immigrants, the United States has to keep DACA in place.

DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an Obama-era executive order that gave illegal immigrants who came to the country as minors the ability to receive two-year deferments from deportations, apply for college and obtain work permits. In other words, it allows young people who immigrated here illegally to obtain quasi-green cards. According to the New York Times, the average age of entry for DACA recipients is 6 years old.

In early September, Trump announced his plans to terminate DACA come this March, and the decision was immediately challenged via the courts. In late February, the Supreme Court temporarily stayed the decision, which means the future of DACA recipients is still up in the air. Americans should hope that Trump’s decision never goes into full effect because of the negative consequences it could have for innocent children and teens. The vast majority of DACA recipients have only attended school in the United States, speak English fluently and have never even been to the country to which they would be deported. Ending DACA would harm the lives of these millions of people by sending them to a country that they’re unfamiliar with, and without any support infrastructure in place. It’s an idea akin to sending every Asian person “back to” China.

The most common argument against DACA (and immigration in general) is that it harms the economy. And while that rhetoric might seem intrinsically logical, statistics disprove the claim. According to CNBC, over 90 percent of DACA recipients are employed, meaning they aren’t “parasites sucking the welfare state dry.” And far from the stereotype of the “Mexican immigrant” stealing our manufacturing jobs, the majority of DACA recipients are well-educated, with bachelor’s degrees and white-collar jobs. This means that deportation would create massive shortages in already depleted job sectors such as computer science. In fact, CNBC estimates that deportation of all DACA recipients would cause a $400 billion deficit in the economy.

While it is crucial that the U.S. government keep DACA in place, it is also important to point out that this policy alone is not a permanent solution. As the name implies, it only defers action; it doesn’t offer undocumented young people a path to citizenship, and someone’s DACA status has to be renewed every two years. Back in 2012, when President Obama created DACA by executive order, he originally wanted Congress to pass the DREAM Act (short for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act), which would have granted all of the DACA protections on a permanent basis. It would have meant no more applying for DACA renewal—and no more fear of deportation—for the group of people we now know as “Dreamers.” Unfortunately, Congress didn’t pass the DREAM Act in 2012, but there were talks of reviving a vote in recent months. This is the real solution that DACA supporters should be advocating because its not only much more comprehensive, but also not an executive order (meaning a president like Trump can’t impulsively repeal it at any point).  

Considering the potentially devastating impact that deportation would have for a generation of young immigrants, and the fact that their presence actively improves our economy, it is clear that DACA (and the new and improved DREAM Act) should remain part of U.S. immigration policy. As a nation of immigrants, it is still our moral responsibility to accept the tired, poor, huddled masses—especially when they’re kids who aren’t much different from us.