The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Dreams Deferred: The end of DACA

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Protesters marching in New York City outside of Trump Tower after the administration's decision to end DACA. (Photo: Diane Greene Lent)

The Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), will have humanitarian and economic costs for the United States and other countries. Congress must act, and provide Dreamers with a legal path to citizenship.

“If immigration is debated only in terms of whether it benefits the economy, politicians begin to divide people into two categories: “valuable” and “illegal.” When countries make people illegal, the world comes apart. When we agree to talk about people as cogs, we lose our humanity.”

-Masha Gessen, New York Times contributor, September 2017

Last week, the Trump administration announced it will rescind the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive order.  DACA was initiated by the Obama administration to address the plight of youth who were brought to the US as children by their parents without papers.  DACA allows 800,000 children, now young adults, to attend colleges, obtain work permits and live without the fear of deportation for two years and is – or was – renewable. They are known as the Dreamers, and they are our neighbors, teachers, caregivers, innovators, soldiers and first responders working to achieve the “American Dream.”

These young people who have only known the United States as their home, voluntarily registered to be part of DACA, paying hefty registration fees and providing information such as their home addresses.  At this time, 97 percent are employed or are attending college or graduate school. In fact, 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies employ one or more Dreamers. Others are serving in the military and 25 percent are parents of US citizens.  They’re important members of our communities, contributing and making sacrifices to help their fellow Americans and make this country better. By now the story of the young Dreamer who died while attempting to rescue people during Hurricane Harvey is quite well known.

Dreamers, as with all immigrants, are making significant contributions to the economy. They work, pay taxes, and are consumers.   An estimated 5 percent have their own businesses and employ other people, 16 percent have purchased a home, and 65 percent have bought a car.  They are a boon, not a drain on our economy.  Ending DACA will cost us an estimated $460.3 billion in GDP over the next ten years, not to mention the enormous expense to taxpayers of rounding them up and deporting them.

The administration’s morally obtuse decision to “wind-down” DACA over the next six months puts the Dreamers in limbo once again. Now they face an uncertain future and the very real possibility that they will be put in risky situations – deported to countries plagued with gang and drug violence, and with limited economic opportunity. The decision undermines US foreign policy interests in Mexico and South America, where most Dreamers are from, by further stressing countries unable to absorb high levels of deportees. It further undercuts Oxfam’s work to end poverty and inequality in these countries.

It is up to Congress to prevent their dream from becoming a nightmare by passing the DREAM Act. The Dream Act is a bipartisan bill that would provide a direct road to US citizenship for people who are either undocumented, have DACA or temporary protected status, and who graduated from US high schools and attended college, entered the workforce, or enlisted in the military.

This is a defining moment for restoring our humanity as a country.  Passing the DREAM Act would end the 16 year congressional logjam on immigration reform and demonstrate that we are proud of our history as a country of immigrants. The bill is not as unpopular as some would have us believe; a recent poll found that 76 percent of Americans, including 69 percent of Republicans, back legal status for the Dreamers. Congress must act now.

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