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Despite Legal Challenges Launched By GOP States, Young Immigrants Continue to Thrive Under DACA

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Thursday, June 15, marks the 11th anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an immigration policy won after years of relentless organizing. Since its implementation more than a decade ago, DACA has become one of the most successful immigration policies in modern U.S. history, allowing roughly 580,000 young people to currently work legally, gain driver’s licenses, and access higher education. A new analysis from FWD.us highlights some of the program’s successes from over the past 11 years:

  • Of the current DACA population, nearly 80% of beneficiaries are employed, making significant contributions to their communities and states. Per the analysis, they contribute an estimated $13.3 billion to our economy annually.
  • DACA beneficiaries who enrolled at the very start of the program have been able to boost their medium income sevenfold, the analysis said. Since 2012, they’ve paid $33 billion in taxes.
  • Nearly all DACA recipients have completed high school, while 47% have some college education. 
  • Roughly 300,000 DACA recipients work in key industries facing labor shortages, including the medical field. Per 2020 data from the Center for American Progress, an estimated 29,000 health care workers are DACA recipients. Many, like intensive care nurse Ana Cueva, were in the frontlines of the pandemic. 

But DACA has also been about peace of mind, providing critical protection against deportation from the only nation beneficiaries have known as home. DACA recipients reside in every single state in the nation, with the largest populations concentrated in California and Texas. The analysis notes that current beneficiaries have lived in the U.S. for an average of 24 years. The average age of a current beneficiary is 29, meaning that without these vital protections, they’d risk being sent back to a place they no longer recognize.

The stability provided by DACA has allowed beneficiaries to feel more confident in building families and homes. Nationally, an estimated 730,000 U.S. citizen children have a parent who is a DACA recipient. When looking at entire households, nearly 1.1 million U.S. citizen children live with a DACA recipient relative. 

“Moreover, recipients and their families have achieved greater financial independence and security with the increased earnings they’ve accessed through DACA,” the Center for American Progress said in April. The most recent survey from CAP, U.S. Immigration Policy Center at the University of California San Diego, United We Dream, and National Immigration Law Center found that more than one-fifth of DACA recipients over 25 purchased their first home after obtaining relief. Beneficiaries have been able to better provide for themselves and their families:

  • Nearly 48% of DACA recipients moved on to better-paying employment after obtaining relief. In fact, respondents’ average hourly wage increased by more than 150% after enrollment.
  • Nearly 47% moved on to employment that provided key benefits, such as health insurance.
  • Half reported buying a car after obtaining DACA, which also boosts their local economies. Nearly half reported opening a bank account and moving into better housing, while nearly 35% began planning for the future by opening a retirement account.
  • Nearly 30% said their higher earnings also allowed them to better care for an elderly loved one.

These successes and accomplishments continue to remain at risk due to ongoing litigation by Republican states, led by recently impeached Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. While immigrant youth and their allies won a historic victory at the Supreme Court in 2020, Texas has led the charge in efforts still trying to terminate these protections through the anti-immigrant judicial pipeline. Because of GOP litigation, no new first-time applications are currently allowed. FWD.us estimates that as many as 400,000 young immigrants would be eligible to apply for DACA if it weren’t for Judge Andrew Hanen’s 2021 ruling.

While there’s no doubt that the DACA program has been instrumental to hundreds of thousands of young people, only permanent relief can quell this continued uncertainty. Protecting young immigrants is also smart politics. “By chance, Latino Decisions was in the middle of conducting a poll of Latino voters in key battleground states when President Obama announced DACA,” we noted last year. “The before and after results showed a huge spike in Latino enthusiasm and Obama and Democrats leaned in with pride.”

“Without question, DACA has been life-changing for the more than 835,000 young people who have qualified for its work authorizations and protections from deportation at some point in the last 11 years—but much more work remains to be done,” FWD.us said in its analysis. “DACA was meant to serve only as a temporary policy offering immigration relief for young people, but it’s now become a permanent reality for DACA recipients, their families, and their employers as Congress has failed to pass permanent legislative protections.”