President Trump has announced a decision on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Read our Nonpartisan reaction to it here.
What is DACA?
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is a policy created via memorandum by the Obama Administration. The policy provided a way forward on amnesty for some illegal immigrants, circumventing the legislative process that stalled the DREAM Act proposed in 2001. The DREAM Act is the origin of the term DREAMers, which has come to represent those protected by DACA.
The DACA program was implemented with strict rules on who can and cannot join. These restrictions were put into place to avoid granting protected status to those who didn’t deserve it. In order to apply and be granted protected status, an applicant must:
- Be 36 years of age or younger (in 2017) and have entered U.S. before attaining 16 years of age.
- Have been a continuous resident since June 15th, 2007.
- Have been physically present, and unlawfully present, on June 15th, 2012 and on the date they file the application.
- Be enrolled in school or an educational program OR have graduated high school/earned their General Educational Development (GED) OR have been honorably discharged from the Armed Forces or Coast Guard.
- Have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors not occurring on the same date or from the same act.
- Not present a threat to national security or public safety.
What does being approved for DACA do?
If an applicant is approved, they earn a protected status called a provisional protected presence and are authorized employment. This status and employment authorization lasts three years from enactment. The status cannot be rescinded unless one of the following occurs:
- The applicant is convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors occurring on same date or from same act.
- The applicant becomes a threat to national security or public safety.
- The applicant travels outside the U.S. without authorization or ceases to continuously reside in the U.S.
As with most policy, there’s an upside and a downside of keeping the DACA program around.
The DACA program ensures America keeps around educated workers with clean records. These workers can be beneficial to society since they’re educated and law-abiding. Not only does the DACA program ensure these workers produce for the American economy, it also ensures their labor gets taxed, bringing in previously missed revenue to the U.S. government. Whether in the U.S. lawfully or not, immigrants are going to work and earn wages, taxing said wages is a definite benefit.
Morally, it’s the right thing to do. Yes, this is as subjective as it gets, but most can agree children who entered the U.S. didn’t make the decisions themselves and were most likely brought by their parents so they could have a better life, not planted here so they could be detrimental to U.S. society. It would be morally unacceptable to remove DACA applicants who have been law-abiding, contributing members of society, and even more unacceptable to remove those who’ve served our country.
The DACA program provides a temporary reprieve for people who committed a crime. Now, one has to acknowledge that this program protects children who most likely didn’t come here of their own accord. However, this act does forgive and forget the transgression of said children’s parents who knowingly broke the law bringing their children into the U.S. By forgiving these crimes, the government does run the risk of encouraging more illegal immigration in the short term, especially if immigrants expect another period of amnesty or reprieve to be granted. Although, in the long term, there’s no data to show that amnesty programs result in an increase of illegal immigration.2
The greatest downside to the DACA program is that it places increased pressure on an already strained social welfare system. Illegal immigrants who are granted amnesty usually don’t end up lawfully joining society in the middle or upper income classes, they’re more than likely to enter the lower-income class and require social welfare. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, “the average welfare cost in immigrant-headed households is $6,234, compared to $4,431 in native-headed households.”3 These households end up consuming “more cash, food, and Medicaid dollars than native households, while housing costs are roughly the same for both groups.”
Some will argue that although the beneficiaries of the DACA program will use more welfare, their protected, lawful status means they’re paying taxes and thus earning these welfare benefits. Unfortunately, immigrant households usually run a larger deficit than native workers, and that’s before amnesty provides them access to more robust welfare benefits. The Heritage Foundation stated, “In 2010, the average unlawful immigrant household received around $24,721 in government benefits and services while paying some $10,334 in taxes. This generated an average annual fiscal deficit (benefits received minus taxes paid) of around $14,387 per household.”4 This annual deficit will be borne by the middle and upper classes. One note, due to DACA only protecting children that entered, it would not have as great a fiscal effect as amnesty for all.
Although amnesty and other like-programs usually come with the bad taste of forgiving a crime, the DACA program doesn’t carry this fault. The children of illegal immigrants weren’t the perpetrators of the crime, they were the naïve beneficiaries. By granting them amnesty or a temporary reprieve it’s not saying illegal immigration is okay, it’s showing compassion to the less-fortunate, and because the program has strict guidelines this compassion doesn’t come with as great a cost.
The economic benefit of continuing the DACA program outweighs the economic cost. Those who can apply for DACA are educated, law abiding, and contributing members of society. These immigrants are filling needed jobs in America, providing the labor necessary for corporate growth. They’re going to earn wages whether they’re here legally or not. By giving them a lawful status we can now tax their wages and ensure they’re paying for some portion, or all, of the benefits they receive.
It’s true, our welfare system is strained and amnesty for illegal immigrants is going to put a little more pressure on it, but the strained welfare system isn’t the fault of the child immigrants nor is it directly related to illegal immigration. The welfare system is a whole other issue and must be dealt with separately. Whether we provide amnesty to applicants of DACA or not, the welfare system is failing — DACA applicants will have little to no effect on it.
Allowing the DACA program to stay is a good idea both the rational Left and Right should be able to get behind. It takes the pros of amnesty and discards a lot of the cons. We’ll be able to fulfill a moral obligation to take care of those in need and provide needed labor and tax revenue to the American economy while also ensuring our nation doesn’t provide amnesty to criminals or non-contributing members of society.