The Future of the DACA Program and the Interests at Stake

The Future of the DACA Program and the Interests at Stake

Ten state attorneys general have announced that they intend to sue the federal government to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program if the Trump administration does not rescind the program by September 5th.  The DACA program, created by the Obama Administration five years ago, has provided nearly 800,000 US residents brought to the United States as children with protection from deportation and with work authorization.

It is not clear at this writing whether the administration will rescind the program or defend it in federal court. The ten states plan to file the case in the federal southern district of Texas, located in Brownsville, TX, which is the same court that struck down the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program and an expanded version of DACA in 2015.

In the meantime, a new version of the DREAM Act has been introduced in both the House and the Senate on a bi-partisan basis. The Trump administration has floated the idea of including the DREAM Act, or some version of it, into a larger immigration bill which would include cuts in legal immigration and strict enforcement measures.  Democrats and pro-immigrant advocates strongly oppose such a proposal.

In the past, President Trump has said he would treat DACA recipients fairly. If so, the administration should rigorously defend the program in federal court and work with Congress to pass a stand-alone DREAM Act, so that these deserving young persons can fully contribute their talents to the United States and eventually become US citizens.

A robust literature has emerged on the economic contributions and potential of undocumented immigrants. DACA recipients also meet a range of social needs, including education of US children and care for the sick.

The Center for Migration Studies (CMS) has released several papers on the strong ties of DACA beneficiaries to the United States.  A 2016 paper in its Journal on Migration and Human Security (JMHS) titled “Potential Beneficiaries of the Obama Administration’s Executive Action Programs Deeply Embedded in US Society” offers a statistical portrait of potential DACA and DAPA beneficiaries. The paper concludes that these populations have “high employment rates, extensive US family ties, long tenure, and substantial rates of English-language proficiency.” It also makes the point that many groups would benefit from DAPA and an expanded DACA program, and (conversely) “would suffer from the removal of potential beneficiaries of these programs.” For example, US citizens and lawful permanent residents rely on the immense contributions of undocumented residents to federal retirement programs.

A 2015 JMHS paper titled “Beyond DAPA and DACA: Revisiting Legislative Reform in Light of Long-Term Trends in Unauthorized Immigration to the United States,” argued for a legalization program based on the characteristics, contributions, and family ties of the US undocumented residents, including potential DAPA and DACA beneficiaries.

In February 2017, CMS released a detailed report on the implementation of the DACA program, titled “The DACA Era and the Continuous Legalization Work of the US Immigrant-Serving Community.” As part of CMS’s US immigration reform initiative, a JMHS paper titled “National Interests and Common Ground in the US Immigration Debate: How to Legalize the US Immigration System and Permanently Reduce its Undocumented Population” argues for legal immigration reform, coupled with a registry program for long-term residents, as a way to reduce the undocumented population and keep it low into perpetuity.

This work underscores the need to expand and extend DACA, not to rescind the program or allow it to die by not defending it in federal court. More importantly, it illustrates the need for a path to permanent legal status for a substantial percentage the US undocumented population, including DACA beneficiaries.