On June 15, 2012, President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA provides temporary relief from deportation and work authorization to undocumented youth who meet certain criteria. An estimated 2 million people are potentially eligible for the program: an estimated 1.2 million are immediately eligible; an estimated 400,000 will be eligible after they turn fifteen; and an estimated 400,000 are eligible but for the education requirement. Nearly 800,000 initial DACA applications have been submitted to date and nearly 700,000 have already been approved. Put otherwise, approximately 60 percent of the estimated immediately eligible population is “DACAmented.”
On balance, existing research shows that DACA is an integration success story. At the same time, more work is needed. Not all who are eligible have applied, and not all who have DACA are benefitting from it equally. Moreover, as Texas v. United States continues to stand in the way of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program and the expansion of the original DACA program, it is important to ask whether the future of the immigration policy debate should center on executive actions that confer temporary legal status, or whether it is time to launch a new push for permanent legislative solutions?
A growing body of research demonstrates how the transition from undocumented to legal immigration status can improve the lives of individuals across a menu of different immigrant integration outcomes. Indeed, the success of the DACA program can serve as a strong argument for broader comprehensive immigration reform. For example, recent research that I conducted with the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and the Center for American Progress (CAP) showed that a full 96 percent of the DACA recipients we surveyed were currently employed or in school. Among those in school, 92 percent reported that they were “[pursuing] educational opportunities [they] previously could not.” With respect to employment, 69 percent reported getting a job with better pay, 57 percent reported getting a job that better fit their education and training, and 54 percent reported getting a job with improved work conditions. Moreover, our survey showed that average hourly wages increased by 45 percent post-DACA, moving from $11.92 an hour to $17.29. Our survey also has something to say in response to Texas v. United States. Specifically, every car purchased by an individual after receiving DACA contributed an average of $647 in sales tax revenue to the state of Texas. Whereas Texas claimed harm from DAPA because of the costs of issuing driver’s licenses to deferred action recipients, Texas did not take into account any of the new tax revenue that would accrue from car purchases.
Still, despite the mounting evidence of the success of the DACA program, DAPA and expanded DACA continue to remain on hold as the 5th Circuit Courts of Appeals upheld, on November 9, its preliminary injunction challenging Obama's Executive Actions, and is now filing for more time to file court papers before the case goes to the Supreme Court. However, it is important to remember that it was the activism of the immigrant-rights movement in advance of the 2012 presidential election that helped pave the way for the original DACA program. As the 2016 presidential election draws closer, it may be the immigrant-rights movement that once again moves immigration policy forward. But this time, the dynamic is different. Because DAPA directly affects the U.S. citizen and legal permanent resident children of undocumented parents, if the children of undocumented parents who can naturalize become citizens, if those who are not registered to vote register, and if those who can vote go to the polls in 2016, such a groundswell has the potential to refocus the immigration policy debate back towards permanent legislative solutions.
By Tom K. Wong, Ph.D., UC San Diego
Tom K. Wong is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego. He is also Director of the International Migration Studies Program Minor. His research focuses on the politics of immigration, citizenship, and migrant "illegality." He is an advisor to Unbound Philanthropy.
Note: Unbound Philanthropy supports outreach and application assistance projects aimed at maximizing the number of immigrants who benefit from the DACA program, and we promote the integration of these beneficiaries.