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DACA Recipients Are Building Homes, Opening Businesses, and Are ‘More Integrated In the American Economy Than They Have Ever Been,’ Annual Survey Shows

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Researchers say that results from an annual survey of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients show that the program’s beneficiaries “are more integrated in the American economy than they have ever been,” including reporting a record level of employment.

Key findings from research conducted by the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at the University of California at San Diego, United We Dream, the National Immigration Law Center, and the Center for American Progress reveal that more than nine out of ten respondents are employed. “This represents a significant jump over the past years, even when compared with pre-pandemic levels; the 2019 survey showed that 89.2 percent of respondents were employed,” researchers said.

Strong percentages of respondents also said they could access better wages and career opportunities under the program, which confers work permits and protection from deportation. However, while current and former beneficiaries can apply for this relief, no first-time applicants can enroll due to ongoing court litigation.

Nearly 60% of survey respondents reported moving to a job with better pay, while nearly 48% said they could move to a job with better working conditions or that better fit their training. Nearly half reported moving to a job that “better fits [their] long-term career goals,” while nearly 58% reported moving to a position with health insurance and other vital benefits. Nearly 20% reported gaining professional licenses, allowing them to pursue careers in various fields.

“In the nearly 12 years since its creation, DACA has been a catalyst for positive change in the lives of recipients, like my own, helping us reach educational milestones, contribute more to the economy, and achieve financial stability as well as improve our families’ overall well-being,” Rosa Barrientos-Ferrer, senior policy analyst at CAP, said in a statement received by America’s Voice. “These opportunities made possible by DACA have subsequently enriched communities across the United States through the contributions of its recipients.”

These contributions are vast. Past CAP research found that DACA recipients contribute nearly $2.1 billion to Social Security and Medicare annually. “In addition, their employers contributed more than $1.6 billion in payroll taxes toward Social Security and Medicare on these DACA recipients’ behalf.” DACA recipients have also outpaced U.S.-born Americans when it comes to opening a business. Christian Serrano, a DACA recipient from Texas, started a home design and construction business as a way to support his family. Through hard work and sweat, he now has more than a dozen employees.

DACA recipients have also strengthened the economy as homeowners, “something that provides additional confirmation of the strong ties they’ve built to their communities,” the findings said. “Year after year, more DACA recipients become homeowners: 30.7 percent of survey respondents purchased their first homes in 2023, a percentage that has trended upward over nearly a decade of surveys.” In 2019, for example, 13.6% of respondents said they’d purchased their first home after gaining DACA protections.

“DACA recipients contribute so much to our families, workplaces, and communities,” said Diana Pliego, federal advocacy strategist at the National Immigration Law Center. “I’ve lived in the United States since the age of 3. My life is deeply connected to the United States and the community around me, just like those who were born here and just as other immigrants who have similarly lived here for decades.”

But researchers said DACA recipients are also “grappling with the unsettling reality that they may be deported to countries they hardly know.” It’s made all the more startling considering they’ve lived here for an average of 24 years and remember no other place as home. “Almost 4 in 10 survey respondents (36.6 percent) reported that they think about being deported from the United States at least once per day, and more than half (55.7 percent) reported that they think about a family member being detained or deported at least once per day.”  

“Every single one of us would feel the impact if DACA were to end,” said Karen Fierro Ruiz, federal policy and advocacy manager of United We Dream. Barrientos-Ferrer said DACA recipients “live in a state of limbo, uncertain about our futures and unable to fully contribute and thrive in the country we call home.”