Washington, DC – Today is the ten-year anniversary of the implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, one of the most successful and popular immigration initiatives in U.S. history. Over its decade of existence, DACA has provided work permits, deportation protections, and new opportunities for more than 800,000 Dreamers.
With the future of DACA imperiled due to continued Republican legal challenges, such as the State of Texas’ challenge recently heard in front of a conservative panel on the Fifth Circuit, below are three lessons about DACA and its significance, through both a policy and political lens:
Lesson One: DACA is a life-changing policy that shows why expanding opportunities for immigrants is good for program recipients and the nation.
- A powerful USA Today feature highlighting first person stories of DACA recipients from all across America, “‘Half an American dream’: DACA was meant to be temporary. 10 years later, immigrants want relief,” offers a reminder of how DACA has transformed lives and in the process, strengthened the country. DACA work permits help Dreamers inject an estimated $11.7 billion into the economy every year as frontline “essential” workers, valued Fortune 50 employees, job creators, business owners and entrepreneurs.
- Of note, the face of a typical DACA recipient isn’t that of a young high school student anymore. Now, the average DACA recipient is a longtime member of the workforce – with a minimum of 15 years living continuously in the U.S. – with many in their 30s, including many parents and heads of households. Meanwhile, many in the younger cohort of Dreamers are ineligible to apply into the program due to the impact of continued Republican legal challenges.
- Taken together, it makes a compelling case for delivering a permanent legislative fix for Dreamers and other long-settled undocumented immigrants. Versions of the Dream Act and similar legislation passed the Senate in 2006, the House in 2010 and 2020 and the Senate in 2013, only to be thwarted by Republicans each time.
Lesson Two: DACA helped transform the 2012 elections
- Dreamers themselves helped win DACA protections, through fierce activism, brave storytelling, and pointed criticism of President Obama’s first term record on deportations. Needing to change course ahead of his re-election, including because of declining enthusiasm among Latino voters, President Obama’s June 2012 DACA announcement changed the course of the election.
- By chance, Latino Decisions was in the middle of conducting a poll of Latino voters in key battleground states when President Obama announced DACA. The before and after results showed a huge spike in Latino enthusiasm and Obama and Democrats leaned in with pride. A DREAMer spoke at the Democratic convention, Obama ran ads in Spanish touting his decision to protect Dreamers, and campaign surrogates highlighted it throughout the election. Meanwhile Mitt Romney pledged to veto the Dream Act and touted “self-deportation.”
- Ten years ago, as Dreamers and families lined up around the country to register for DACA, an Obama advisor told Ezra Klein, then of the Washington Post: “If the President wins, this official thought that we would look back after the election and pinpoint the day the administration announced their new policy on deportations as the day the election was won….I didn’t think much of the Obama official’s comment at the time. But reading over some of the coverage of this policy change in local press, and looking at photos like this one, I’m starting to take it more seriously. Changing people’s lives is always more effective than another campaign ad. And this policy is looking like it’s going to change a lot of lives.”
Lesson Three: DACA remains a powerful point of distinction between the parties. Democrats should work to deliver a long overdue legislative breakthrough and hammer Republicans on their continued attempts to cruelty make DACA recipients/Dreamers deportable.
- The Republican Party is still actively trying to end the DACA program to ensure that hundreds of thousands of people who have registered with the government repeatedly and lived in the U.S. a minimum of 15 years are once again made deportable and unemployable. In courts, the GOP is trying to end DACA; in Congress, the GOP wants to block legislation to make Dreamers full citizens; and on the campaign trail, Republicans are portraying immigrants and asylum seekers as dangerous “invaders” seeking to “replace” white Americans.
- While many Democrats are loath to discuss anything on immigration these days, due to the barrage of Republican misinformation and ugly focus on the border, DACA and Dreamers present a chance for Democrats to go on offense on an extraordinarily popular immigration subject while fighting for an essential legislative breakthrough.
- Poll after poll shows DACA is incredibly popular (see here for a poll roundup, showing approximately 4-in-5 Americans and a majority of GOP respondents support Dreamers’ protections).
- Just this week, a new poll in Texas from the Dallas Morning News/UT Tyler shows that while public sentiment on border security questions is largely divided along partisan lines, protections for Dreamers is broadly popular – at a time when Gov. Greg Abbott and the state of Texas are leading the legal charge against DACA. The poll asked, “Do you support or oppose granting permanent legal status to immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally when they were children?”
- Overall, Texas likely voters support legal status for Dreamers 61-27%, with a plurality of 31% saying they “strongly support.”
- This support extends across party lines, with Democrats backing 80-11%, Independents 59-27%, and Republicans 48%-40.
According to Vanessa Cárdenas, America’s Voice Deputy Director:
“DACA transformed the lives of thousands for the better and motivated voters who care about immigration. The story of its enactment and its successes, policy and political, remain vital today to understand and apply to the current moment.
DACA and the stories of its program recipients help destroy the lies and scary portrayals of immigrants that Republicans use to justify their opposition and obstruction to legislative solutions that are now more than two decades in the making. With the future of DACA imperiled and the lives and futures of Dreamers with and without DACA in limbo, now is the time to find a way to deliver the popular legislation that should have been enacted long ago. And now is the time for Democrats to hammer Republicans for their role in seeking to overturn and obstruct Dreamers at every turn.”