The Trump administration failed to show “great heart” when dealing with “Dreamers,” young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children who have been vetted and granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protection. By rescinding the program, hundreds of thousands of lives and livelihoods are now threatened.
This was a terrible decision, not just for DACA recipients and their families, but for American businesses and communities who depend on these creative, committed young people and their talents to succeed. The Trump administration has made the wrong choice, but Congress can step up and make it right.
Our community has been calling on Congress for years to find a path forward for Dreamers, but they have not been able to agree on a solution. Because of their inaction, President Obama established the DACA program. Now most people understand that it would be senseless to deport hundreds of thousands of generally law-abiding young people who have grown up in the United States among our own children as members of our communities. I encourage anyone who does not yet believe this to watch the movie Spare Parts or read the book on which it is based La Vida Robot, a true story of undocumented high schoolers who beat MIT in a robotics competition right here in Santa Barbara. The young men in that story are representative of DACA recipients.
DACA has a positive effect on the U.S. economy. DACA recipients grew up here. They speak English, and they are better educated than the average immigrant. Applicants must currently attend school or have a high school degree or equivalent to enter the program. About 36 percent of DACA recipients who are older than 25 have a bachelor’s degree, and an additional 32 percent are pursuing a bachelor’s degree. Others are working toward an advanced degree and have taken out student loans to pursue nursing programs, medical school, and other professional long-term education.
DACA recipients work for U.S. companies — from small, local businesses to large chains, tech industry firms, and corporations. They pay taxes and contribute to the U.S. economy. Many have bought houses and cars. They spend their earnings locally and support our businesses. Many have started families. Several thousand have started their own businesses. The Dreamers do not take jobs from Americans. In fact, the unemployment rate has dropped considerably in the five years since DACA has been in effect.
According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), first-generation immigrants who enter the United States as children (including all DACA recipients) pay, on average, more in taxes over their lifetimes than they receive in benefits, regardless of their education level. DACA recipients end up contributing more than the average, because they are not eligible for any federal means-tested welfare: cash assistance, food stamps, Medicaid, health-care tax credits, or similar benefits.
The NAS finds that among recent immigrants who entered as children, those with a high school degree are positive to the government to the amount of $60,000 to $153,000 in net present value, meaning it’s like each immigrant cutting a check for that amount. For those with a bachelor’s degree, it’s a net positive of $160,000 to $316,000.
Ending DACA defies economic logic. By potentially closing off the employment and educational prospects of these promising, hard-working young people, President Trump has diminished their earnings and purchasing power, blocked their educational and professional prospects, and perhaps left them unemployed. If they recede into the shadows again, they will contribute less to our economy and in many cases, stop paying taxes. More than 300 top executives of some of the largest U.S. corporations asked Trump not to rescind DACA. Our economy, our community, and our consciences will suffer along with the dreamers if we do not hold Congress accountable for working out a solution.
Congress should act to pass legislation that will protect this group of individuals, who are our friends, our classmates, our neighbors, and our employees. We should all encourage Congress to move legislation forward that will protect Dreamers and make our country stronger.