The United States is home to over 50 million residents born in a different country. The quantitative measure of immigrant diversity in the U.S. reads a whopping 91 points out of 100, only second to the United Kingdom on the diversity index.
Furthermore, nearly 3.2%-3.6% of the U.S. population is constituted of undocumented migrants, accounting to nearly 10.5 to 12.5 million.
Numbers these high underscore the need of an immediate immigration reform and status for these highly populous group of undocumented immigrants, whose contribution is vital to the American economy.
SelfLawyer has curated a comprehensive report, with detailed intricacies involving an Obama-era immigration policy implemented in 2012, called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). In conjunction with numerical data and figures validating crucial events and facts engulfing DACA, SelfLawyer has presented a valuable insight into the lives and hardships faced by DACA recipients.
What is DACA?
On June 15, 2012, President Barack Obama introduced an immigration policy, which aimed at providing temporary relief to some eligible young undocumented immigrants entering the country, usually illegally with their parents.
This executive order, termed as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was put into place to shield minor immigrants from temporary deportation and provide work authorization for a period of two years, subject to renewal.
The term ‘deferred action’ is a use of prosecutorial discretion to defer removal action against an individual for a certain period of time. However, it does not provide the individual with a lawful status.
While the program grants its recipients with legal protection for two years, it does not provide a path to permanent residency or citizenship.
DACA extended immediate protection to nearly 700,000 Dreamers, coming under effect in 2012.
It has granted over 826,000 Dreamers temporary status to live and work in the U.S.
About 787,580 people have been approved for DACA since its inception, as of June 2020.
According to MPI estimates, 646,000 people are currently enrolled in the program, while six in ten undocumented immigrants have lived in the United States for at least a decade.
Who are Dreamers?
The beneficiaries of DACA are known as ‘Dreamers’, termed from a bill proposed in Congress in 2002, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.
It proposed granting temporary conditional residency to unauthorized immigrant minors, and the right to work in the U.S., followed by a pathway to legal permanent residency, given they satisfy further qualifications.
However, despite being reintroduced multiple times, the bill has never been approved by majorities in either house of the Congress.
Referred to as the ‘1.5 generation’, the Dreamers were brought to America at a young age and have known to grow and identify themselves as Americans. Many do not even hold a memory of their home countries.
Fact 1. The biggest number of DACA applicants come from Mexico, contributing almost 81% of the total applications, followed by El Salvador and Guatemala.
The chart below lists the top 15 countries contributing to the highest number of DACA applicants as of Dec. 31, 2020.
The current immigration law does not grant legal permanent residency to DACA recipients. They face multiple economic, legal, social and educational obstacles, among others, besides the stress due to an uncertainty in their legal status.
Fact 2. The average DACA recipient came to the U.S. at the age of six and has been living in the U.S. for 22 years.
Approximately 65,000 undocumented immigrant students graduate from U.S. high schools on a yearly basis.
SelfLawyer’s study of USCIS report as curated in the chart below, depicts the current age of active DACA recipients and highlights that about 36% of them are between the ages of 21 and 25.
Conditions Required to Apply for DACA
While President Obama announced the DACA policy on June 15, 2012, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began accepting applications for the program on August 15, 2012.
According to the memorandum, one can apply for DACA if they satisfy the following guidelines.
- Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
- Came to the U.S. before reaching their 16th birthday;
- Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;
- Were physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making your request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
- Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012;
- Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a General Educational Development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
- Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
Fact 3. The total count of active DACA recipients, having their applications expired in 2021 and 2022 add to 636,410.
The chart below also lists the total number of DACA applicants and their DACA status expiration dates in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
DACA’s Fate Over the Last 8 Years: Trump’s Attempt to Dismantle DACA
After instituting DACA in 2012 by bypassing Congress, President Obama proposed his ideas of expanding the executive order (DACA) to cover additional undocumented immigrants, in November 2014. However, this was blocked by the Supreme Court.
In June 2017, the Trump administration rescinded expanding the DACA program, followed by announcing its plan to completely put an end to it, in September 2017, justifying that the program was an abuse of President Obama’s executive power.
Trump asked the Congress to make a decision in a period of the upcoming six months and pass a replacement bill by March 5, 2018, post which he would abolish the DACA program.
Following this announcement, the filing and acceptance of all new DACA applications were temporarily suspended until December, when a New York district court judge ordered officials to restore the program and resume the activities.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued an injunction on Trump’s move to terminate the program, ruling that it was unlawful.
In January 2018, Trump proposed a pathway to legalise 1.8 million Dreamers, in exchange for Congress to capitalize his U.S.-Mexico border wall. This proposal failed too.
In November 2019, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the DACA case and finally on June 18, 2020, it ruled out the Trump administration’s attempt to demolish DACA in a 5-4 ruling, on account of the insufficient justification provided by the latter, stating it as ‘arbitrary and capricious’.
While the Supreme Court’s ruling did prove to be a critical win for over 700,000 recipients who were left in a legal limbo for three years, it did leave the door open for dismantling DACA, if a legitimate justification is provided in future.
Trump made over 400 changes to immigration policy, according to Miranda Cady Hallett, an immigration expert at the University of Dayton.
Biden’s Policies to Revive DACA & Bolster Dreamers
Researchers evaluating the DACA program have concluded that it has benefited the Dreamers equally as the American community and economy.
However, President Trump’s crusade for eradicating the DACA program by 2020, left Dreamers in a dire need of a policy working towards bolstering a population of over 800,000 undocumented immigrants contributing to the American society.
President Biden’s administration marched towards it.
Among his first acts implemented as the President of the United States, Biden proposed an immigration reform bill called the U.S. Citizenship Act on January 20, 2021, which commits to follow all the appropriate actions needed to ‘preserve and fortify’ DACA.
Biden’s administration is urging the Congress to approve the comprehensive immigration reform bill and fast track the permanent citizenship process for not only Dreamers but also other undocumented immigrants, including farmworkers.
Biden’s U.S. Citizenship Act, if passed could create citizenship pathways for about 11 million undocumented immigrants, however it would require at least 10 Republican votes to fulfill a 60-vote majority and pass the Senate.
Later on March 18, 2021, the Democrat-dominated House of Representatives passed the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021, which could grant citizenship to over 4 million undocumented immigrants.
The Biden administration has put a notice in the federal register, which will allow the public to submit comments before the policy changes freeze.
This bill, if passed, would create an eight-year citizenship pathway for undocumented immigrants (including about 300,000 migrants with Temporary Protected Status or Deferred Enforced Departure) residing in the U.S. as of January 1, along with a fast track route for Dreamers to apply for green cards right away, followed by chances of becoming permanent citizens in the future.
As per the MPI data, DACA excluded about 1 million unauthorized immigrants who met most criteria but did not either complete their education, or committed a crime, or feared applying for DACA could lead to their undocumented parents’ deportation.
In compliance with an order of a United States District Court, and effective Dec. 7, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will be following some guidelines, which can be found here.
Fact 4. The number of female Dreamers, comprising 53.36% of the total DACA population, exceed males.
Fact 5. Most DACA beneficiaries are single, contributing by 72.95% in the DACA group.
Fact 6. A majority of DACA recipients, about 28.54% reside in California, followed by Texas, Illinois, New York and Florida.
The top cities inhabiting DACA recipients are Los Angeles, followed by New York, Dallas, Chicago and Houston, with about 12.4% of the population living in Los Angeles.
Why Is It Imperative for Biden’s Bills to Pass?
According to a survey conducted in 2020, about three quarter U.S. adults, or 74% favoured granting a permanent legal status to Dreamers, while 91% Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents demanded the same.
Over 172,000 immigrants have entered the U.S. illegally as of April 2021, the highest recorded levels in at least 15 years.
However, over the past 9 years, DACA has never been enacted by Congress, leaving its recipients in a constant state of uncertainty.
College education has become more affordable for students under DACA, thereby increasing their tax contributions.
Consequently, these youngsters are encouraged to invest more in their education, due to provision of legal employment on completion of their degrees.
However, DACA does have significant limitations, states Wayne Cornelius, a professor of U.S.-Mexican relations at the University of California.
Despite possessing required qualifications, some employers hesitate hiring DACA recipients, as their work authorization needs to be renewed every two years.
These students are not eligible for federal financial aid and most public postsecondary aid.
According to a 2018 survey, of the total 452,000 undocumented students in the U.S., only 18% were enrolled at private colleges and universities, while for the 216,000 DACA college students, this rate fell to 16%.
The U.S. Hispanic/Latinx student group marks the highest share in the number of undocumented and DACA students pursuing higher education by race.
Another major limitation is the international travel constraint, which requires obtaining a so-called “Advance Parole” permission.
All these shortcomings faced by DACA recipients would significantly reduce or come to an end if Biden’s proposals pass.
How are Dreamers Impacting the American Economy?
Wikipedia corroborates that immigrants have lower crime rates than native-born Americans and clarifies that there is no evidence to prove otherwise.
DACA recipients include doctors, teachers, attorneys, store workers, child care providers and business owners, among others.
Economists have rejected claims on DACA affecting the U.S. economy in a negative manner, or adversely affects the labor market for American-born citizens.
According to a 2019 survey with 1,105 DACA participants from across 40 states, 96% were either employed or enrolled in schools.
- About 91% respondents over the age of 25 years were employed, while over 53% got health insurance and other benefits offered at their jobs due to DACA.
- 6% of respondents started their own company, creating jobs, while the count for those above 25 years of age, crossed 8%.
- While about 20% respondents above 25 obtained their professional license post DACA, about 85% confessed that DACA helped them become financially independent.
- Furthermore, their average hourly wage spiked by 86% since receiving DACA, rising from $10.46 per hour to $19.45 per hour, to $23.70 for 25 and older.
DACA recipients contribute majorly to the American economy, especially now that their purchasing trends are on a rise.
About 60% respondents purchased their first car after receiving DACA, while 19% bought their first home. This leads to addition of jobs and monetary infusion in local economies.
Fact 7. DACA households pay a total of $8.8 billion in federal, state, and local taxes annually.
DACA recipients employ an estimated nearly 86,000 people by creating jobs.
DACA Benefits for Students
The Biden administration has proposed to expand the Pell Grant eligibility to young Dreamers, along with raising this amount by a maximum of $400, in its fiscal 2022 Budget.
The federal Pell Grants are offered to low-income students so that they can use it to fund their post-secondary education, at about 6,000 institutions tied up with it.
If this bill passes, the chances of undocumeted immigrant and DACA students receiving post-secondary level education will rise too.
Currently, only 21 out of 50 states offer post-secondary and sometimes medical aid benefits to undocumented students, while states like South Carolina and Alabama do not allow such students to attend state institutions at all.
The Biden administration has announced to extend access for undocumented college students and Dreamers to the federal coronavirus relief aid, which was stopped by the Trump administration in June 2020.
MPI estimates that about 98,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools each year.
DACA Recipients’ Role in the COVID-19 Pandemic
Across the country, over 202,500 DACA recipients are working in the fight against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
They make up an imminent fraction of essential workers, healthcare workers and frontline fighters.
About 43,500 recipients work in the health care and social assistance sector, including 10,300 in hospitals and 2,000 in nursing care facilities.
Health care diagnosing and registered nurses make up 6,400 employees, while health technologists and technicians constitute 6,000 of these workers.
Additionally, the highest number of DACA recipients working in health care occupations populate California (8,600), followed by Texas (4,300) and New York (1,700).
According to a report published by CMS on DACA recipients:
- 32,800 are employed in retail trade, including 12,400 in supermarkets, 3,200 in pharmacies, and 5,200 in merchandise stores such as warehouse clubs.
- 21,100 operate in transportation and warehousing, including 6,400 in warehousing and storage and 5,100 in truck transportation.
- 14,500 work in the manufacturing sector, which includes food and beverage, pharmaceutical, cleaning products, and medical equipment manufacturing.
- 13,300 work in support and waste management services, including 10,100 who work in services to buildings and dwellings and 1,000 in waste management.