On September 5, 2017, the Trump Administration announced the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Established in 2012, DACA has granted temporary protection from deportation and work authorization to approximately 800,000 individuals – providing hope and a temporary sense of security to undocumented young people commonly referred to as “Dreamers.” However, as evidenced by this announcement, the grant of deferred action can be quickly taken away without notice. Unless Congress enacts legislation in the next six months to allow the Dreamers to lawfully remain and contribute to a workforce already limited in resources, there may be a ripple effect of hardship that will go beyond these 800,000 individuals, affecting families and businesses, and resulting in economic losses estimated in the billions of dollars.
Who are the Dreamers? “Dreamer” is used to refer to individuals who came to the United States as children without proper documentation and were raised and educated in the United States. The name comes from the bipartisan bill, Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, first introduced to Congress in 2001 that proposed a pathway to citizenship for undocumented young people brought to the United States as children. Since 2001, the DREAM Act, or similar bills, have been introduced in Congress no less than 21 times, most recently in 2017. Other bills, such as the Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy (BRIDGE) Act, provide very similar protections to DACA. However, these bills failed to be passed by Congress and DACA was issued by Executive Order.
DACA allows the exercise of prosecutorial discretion to focus government enforcement resources away from the Dreamers, who are a low priority population. Department of Homeland Security agencies have used deferred action to prioritize limited enforcement resources on the worst offenders and those who pose a potential national security threat. To qualify for DACA, applicants must satisfy stringent education and moral character requirements and undergo extensive security and background checks. DACA is also limited to a select group of individuals under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012 who entered the United States before the age of 16 and satisfied the physical presence requirement.
A Center for American Progress study estimated that the loss of DACA workers would reduce U.S. gross domestic product by $433 billion over the next 10 years. The CATO Institute estimated the rescission of DACA would also cost employers $6.3 billion in employee turnover costs, including recruiting, hiring, and training 720,000 new employees. Moreover, Dreamers pay federal, state, and local taxes and are not eligible for federal welfare. CATO estimates ending DACA could cost nearly $280 billion in lost tax revenue over the next decade.
DACA recipients are unlikely to have alternative options for lawful status or work authorization in the United States and most will be subject to either a 3 or 10-year bar from re-entry to the United States upon departing. For many, deportation could result in living in a country they do not know with a language they cannot speak. Those with U.S. citizen children may be separated from their family for significant periods of time because of other country’s immigration requirements. Displacement from family, home, community, and familiar employment is a likely outcome.
In addition, studies warn that the termination of DACA could significantly affect the U.S. economy. A study by the Migration Policy Institute found that DACA-eligible workers were concentrated in white-collar jobs, generally with better pay than jobs involving manual labor. More than seventy-five percent of DACA recipients are currently employed and the average wage earned is $17 per hour. A Center for American Progress study estimated that the loss of DACA workers would reduce U.S. gross domestic product by $433 billion over the next 10 years. The CATO Institute estimated the rescission of DACA would also cost employers $6.3 billion in employee turnover costs, including recruiting, hiring, and training 720,000 new employees. Moreover, Dreamers pay federal, state, and local taxes and are not eligible for federal welfare. CATO estimates ending DACA could cost nearly $280 billion in lost tax revenue over the next decade.
Leading up to the announcement of DACA’s termination, Dreamers found an ally amongst business leaders, particularly in the tech industry. California has the highest number of DACA recipients, with more than 200,000 recipients living in California. The state is also home to tech giants such as Facebook, Google, Uber, and Apple, all headquartered in California and employ many DACA recipients. These CEOs and leaders, along with more than 400 business leaders from companies like Amazon, Microsoft, AT&T, and Wells Fargo, signed an Open Letter, dated August 31, 2017, “Leaders of American Industry on DACA,” published by the immigration advocacy group FWD.us, co-founded by Mark Zuckerberg, which called on the President to preserve DACA. In the Open Letter, the business leaders stated that “Dreamers are vital to the future of our companies and our economy. With them, we grow and create jobs. They are part of why we will continue to have a global competitive advantage.”
With the imminent end of DACA, businesses should consider how this may impact their own workforce, what options are available for those affected, and whether resources and influence should be utilized to urge Congress to enact permanent protections for these individuals.
Jeffrey Kikuta is a Partner with Fragomen Worldwide’s Los Angeles offices He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 979 6859. Shelly Song is an Associate with Fragomen Worldwide’s Los Angeles office. She can be contacted at email@example.com or (310) 979-6875.
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