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Congress Must Save Daca - and Not Just for Dreamers

Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer say they’ve brokered a deal with Trump for a replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The current program, created by President Obama, allowed undocumented immigrants who had been brought to the United States as children a way to attend college, work, and otherwise carry on their lives in the United States.

Trump won’t go as far as to say he’s made a deal, but confirms discussing DACA with Schumer and Pelosi. He also confirms that he’s willing to support a legislative solution for Dreamers in exchange for enhanced border security measures. Those measures will not include funding for the wall.

The announcement that Trump was ending the DACA program met with disapproval from all corners. The vast majority of Americans of all political persuasions, including Trump supporters, favor allowing Dreamers a path to citizenship or an opportunity to become permanent legal residents. The outcry has been primarily on humanitarian grounds: Dreamers were brought to this country as children, and many don’t remember any other home. Deporting them would, in many cases, mean sending a young adult to an unfamiliar country with no knowledge of the country, no family or contacts, and who may even be unable to speak the language.

It turns out, though, that Dreamers aren’t the only ones who would be hurt by ending DACA.

The Economic Impact of Deporting Dreamers

Earlier this year, fellows from the CATO Institute released a report projecting that ending DACA would cost the federal government alone $60 billion in the ten years following its repeal. The overall economic cost was estimated at more than $200 billion over a decade. One reason they expect that ending DACA would be so expensive for the U.S. is that it is unlikely that the U.S. would invest the resources necessary to actually deport the more than 750,000 DACA registrants. In other words, these currently productive members of society would again become undocumented immigrants and unable to continue their educations and career paths. Instead, they would be driven underground, into low-paying, off-the-books jobs.

Another report, released by the Center for American Progress in August, projects that if the DACA program ends, 1,400 people currently working will become ineligible for employment each day. This exodus could cost U.S. employers $2 billion in the first two years.

Dreamers Contribute to More than the Economy

The economic impact of either deporting Dreamers or simply terminating the program without an alternative would be significant. However, there’s more than just money at stake.

As tens of thousands of working Dreamers lose their work authorization, some U.S. industries may face a serious shortage of qualified employees. Of particular concern is the healthcare sector, where demand for services is expected to grow as baby boomers age. This increased demand is expected to necessitate the addition of hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers across the next decade.

About 20% of employed Dreamers work in the healthcare industry, and their concentration is even greater in some geographic areas. For example, about 25% of home healthcare workers across the U.S. are immigrants. However, that number is significantly higher in some of our most populous states: about 50% in California and more than 65% in New York.

The U.S. can ill afford to lose qualified healthcare workers, let alone at a rate of 6,000 or more each month.

The Bottom Line on DACA

Rescinding DACA without a legislative alternative will hurt the nearly 800,000 young adults working and studying in the United States under the program. It will hurt the federal government’s budget, and reduce state and local tax revenues. It will leave key industries short of competent workers, and will increase the number of immigrants in the underground economy, working low-paying jobs and not paying income taxes.

With more than 75% of the country supporting citizenship or permanent legal residence for Dreamers and the high economic and social cost of terminating the program, there is simply no upside to repealing DACA without providing an alternative. The only potential benefit of Trump’s decision to end DACA is that Congress now has a powerful incentive to offer Dreamers something better than deferred action—a pathway to citizenship or permanent legal residence.