This episode of CMSOnAir is the first in a series featuring academics, policymakers, and advocates who have written for the Journal on Migration and Human Security (JMHS).
Created by the Obama administration in 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program offers certain young immigrants who came to the United States as children work authorization and a temporary reprieve from deportation. As the Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding the Trump administration’s efforts to terminate the DACA program, CMS released a paper offering detailed estimates about DACA recipients, their economic contributions, and their deep ties to US communities. The paper found that:
- 83 percent of DACA recipients is in the labor force. From this pool, 95 percent is employed;
- 346,455 US-born children under the age of 18 have at least one DACA parent; and,
- 81 percent of DACA recipients has lived in the United States for more than 15 years.
The paper, which also features testimonies of several DACA recipients, was subsequently published in the Journal on Migration and Human Security (JMHS), CMS’s peer-reviewed, public policy journal.
In this episode, Daniela Alulema — author of the JMHS paper and herself a DACA recipient — describes the paper’s findings and shares the stories of the DACA recipients. She also outlines potential policy directions for the DACA program, given the Supreme Court’s decision that the way the Trump administration ended the program was unlawful and the Biden administration’s support for the program.
In June 2012, the Obama administration announced the establishment of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which sought to provide work authorization and a temporary reprieve from deportation to eligible undocumented young immigrants who had arrived in the United States as minors. Hundreds of thousands of youth applied for the program, which required providing extensive evidence of identity, age, residence, education, and good moral character. The program allowed its recipients to pursue higher education, to access more and better job opportunities, and to deepen their social ties in the United States. This paper provides a statistical portrait of DACA recipients based on administrative data from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and estimates drawn from the 2017 American Community Survey (ACS) Census data. Beyond its statistical portrait, the paper provides testimonies from DACA recipients who recount how the program improved their lives and their concerns over its possible termination. It also recommends passage of legislation that would create a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and programs and policies to support and empower young immigrants....
Emma Winters: Welcome to CMSOnAir, the podcast on migration and refugee issues, brought to you by the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS). I’m Emma Winters, CMS’s Communications Manager. In just a moment, you’ll hear a conversation between Michele Pistone, Jack Hoeffner, and Daniela Alulema. Michele and Jack, nonresident fellows for CMS, ask Daniela about her paper “DACA and the Supreme Court: How We Got to This Point, a Statistical Profile of Who Is Affected, and What the Future May Hold for DACA Beneficiaries,” Daniela is the Center for Migration Studies’ Director of Programs, and she authored the paper for CMS’s Journal on Migration and Human Security in 2019. In this episode, she shares her own immigration story, highlights from her recent paper, and her hopes for a permanent solution for DACA recipients.
John (Jack) Hoeffner: Hello everyone, My name is Jack Hoeffner, and with me is Michele Pistone. From right before the Trump administration took office until right before the Biden administration entered office, we were editors of the Journal on Migration and Human Security (JMHS). We thought it would be interesting – now that there has been a change in administration – to talk to people who wrote articles for the journal in that period. We wanted to ask them about the articles, their thoughts about them now, and what might happen in the areas they wrote about.
As our first guest, we have Daniela Alulema. She is an old friend. She works at CMS, which publishes the journal. We thought it would be good to start with a friend because she’ll be more forgiving. Welcome to our podcast, Daniela.
Daniela Alulema: Thank you, Jack. Thank you, Michele. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Jack Hoeffner: We wanted to begin with a little bit about your background. Can you tell us how long you’ve been involved with immigration issues?
Daniela Alulema: Sure, it’s been about 13 years that I have been in some capacity involved in the immigrant rights movement, most recently as the Director of Programs at CMS.
I’ve been with CMS for the last seven years, and I’ve worn different hats. I joined the organization in 2014, and I’ve seen the different stages of growth for CMS. I currently serve as Director of Programs, where I oversee some of its programs including the Catholic Immigrant Integration Initiative. I also support and lead some of the research projects that CMS conducts and also provide some support on the fundraising and administrative side.
Jack Hoeffner: You’re really a jack of all trades. I know you also moderate panels and do things like that. You’re busy.
Daniela Alulema: I’m up for the challenge, yes. I’ve learned a lot at CMS.
Jack Hoeffner: What drew you to the immigration field in the first place?
Daniela Alulema: I have a personal connection to immigration. I’m an immigrant myself. My family and I had to migrate. We came to New York in 2001 because of political and economic turmoil in our home country. Unfortunately, to this day, I remain undocumented. This immigration status has created a lot of obstacles through these 20 years of life here in New York. It has produced a lot of frustration and desperation.
As a young person, you have a lot of dreams and a lot of aspirations. You are in the land of opportunities, but – unfortunately, because of an immigration status that’s out of our control – many of us are not able to pursue the careers or the dreams that we have. When I was in college, this frustration motivated me to take some control. I became an activist. I joined an organization that is undocumented youth led. We advocated for equal access to higher education, for the DREAM Act. We organized. We lobbied in Washington and conducted civil disobedience actions, but most importantly, we empowered ourselves. We reclaimed our voices and our stories, and we created a community because – this used to happen a lot to undocumented young people – we felt alone. We felt like we were the only ones who were going through this issue, so just finding community made a huge difference. Finally, we became visible. In 2009, as a national movement, we were able to declare ourselves undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic. That gave us a lot of visibility, and more political power to push for issues that matter to our community. That’s in a nutshell how I became involved in immigration.
After my years as an activist, I decided to dedicate my work to migration issues. I believe that migration policy should be created based on facts and should include the people who are directly impacted by issues. That’s what motivated me to join and to remain at the Center for Migration Studies, where we study international migration and try to promote policies that protect the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees.
Jack Hoeffner: Well, one of those policies is the one you wrote about in your article for the journal. Let me read the title: “DACA and the Supreme Court: How We Got to this Point, A Statistical Profile of Who Was Affected, and What the Future May Hold for DACA Beneficiaries.” What do you want to say about this article? It’s only a few years later, but there has been a change in administrations. There are some new developments that are important. Could you talk about the [paper’s findings and recent developments]?
Daniela Alulema: Through this paper, I wanted to provide a portrait of who DACA recipients are. Just to quickly mention, DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It’s a program created by President Obama. It was announced in June of 2012, and it provides a temporary work permit and deferral of deportation to eligible immigrants who came into the country as minors and who fulfill several other requirements. At the peak of the program there were about 800,000 young immigrants who had active DACA status. As of September of 2019 – that’s the data set that I used for this paper – there were over 650,000 active DACA recipients.
Jack Hoeffner: There’s a discrepancy of about 175,000 to 200,000 people. Those are people who didn’t renew their applications. Is that it?
Daniela Alulema: People who didn’t renew or who were able to adjust their status after having DACA. The larger portion is those who decided not to renew their status. That is totally reasonable given the administration we had at the time.
Jack Hoeffner: That was due fear of giving out information – addresses and contact information and things of that sort, right?
Daniela Alulema: With DACA, it is a very meticulous process. You need to provide pretty much your entire life story. You need to tell the government where you live and where you have lived in the past. You need to provide proof of residence – some sort of documentation that verifies that you have lived in the United States since 2007. You’re opening up not only your own life, but also potentially putting at risk family members who may live with you or who may be part of your circle. It takes a large vote of confidence to come forward and provide that much information to the government. At the time, of course, we as young immigrants were excited about the program and what it could do for us, but we never thought that we would be under such an administration as the Trump administration.
Coming back to the paper, I wanted to capture this portrait of DACA recipients, how deep their ties are to the country, what the impact of the program is and has been on their lives, and what it would mean if the program ended. I wanted to share not only a statistical portrait but also some of the stories, so we can see the human side of the program. I wanted to recount how the program has changed lives and also go into some of the concerns that beneficiaries have about the possible termination of the program.
At the time I wrote the paper, we still didn’t have a decision from the Supreme Court about whether the way that the Trump administration ended the program was lawful. This created months of anxiety and uncertainty. For me, it brought back many of those feelings that I had as a young college student when I felt I didn’t have any control over my future. I wanted to use this paper to provide that aspect of our lives. Although the Supreme Court issued a positive decision in June of last year, DACA is once again at risk – given the case in Texas. Texas and six other states are arguing that DACA has created an unnecessary burden on their resources and are questioning whether the program is constitutional.
I feel like we’re still in that limbo. Of course, we’re happy that the Biden administration has very vocally claimed support for the program, but we know that it’s not over. DACA is and remains just a temporary stop gap. A solution to this issue requires a more permanent legislative fix.
Michele Pistone: You said earlier, Daniela, that as part of this paper you interviewed people who were DACA recipients and wanted to capture how DACA has impacted their lives and the fact of their undocumented status. Could you tell us a little bit about how this impacts individuals and their families?
Daniela Alulema: Absolutely, I think sometimes in academic or policy papers we miss the humanity of the person or the group that we’re studying. Unfortunately, the Trump administration tried to do that. It wanted to rob us of our humanity by creating fear and hatred and xenophobia. Also, I think that sometimes the nuances of issues can be missed when we only talk about economic contributions or we just focus on that aspect of an issue. To me, it was very important to share the testimonies of DACA recipients. I interviewed a few for this paper.
In the paper, we hear about a law student who attends Rutgers University and is a DACA recipient. She wanted to use her degree to help others in her community. She talks about how DACA allowed her to do things that maybe some people take for granted like to be able to drive and go into federal buildings. With DACA, she was able to interpret for others in court. Recently, she graduated and will finally be able to practice.
We also hear about the story of a young immigrant who used to love math and science as a child and was always interested in a career in medicine. When he joined the immigrant rights movement, he realized that there were many social injustices. He used his interest and his passion in medicine. Now, thanks to DACA, he’s a resident at a hospital in the Northwest and is working in the front lines of the pandemic.
In the paper, we also go beyond career and academic aspirations. We also have the stories of DACA recipients who are now parents and have begun families in the United States. With that, they have deepened their ties to the country even more. I wanted to provide not only the demographic profile of this group, but also show how complex – as any human being is – DACA recipients are. We are people with aspirations and dreams who are also deeply affected by this issue. Because of our immigration status, we constantly question our belonging and our identity. There are issues of mental health in the community. It is a complex issue. We need to remind ourselves and our policymakers of the humanity that’s in question.
Michele Pistone: Yes, that’s really helpful, and it’s helpful to see it from a human perspective and to see how many people are impacted by it. [There are] decisions that on their face just impact one DACA recipient, but as you said — these are individuals, who are part of communities, part of families. Sometimes we forget the ramifications of not being able to move around freely and be in the presence of family members. One of the stories, also from your paper, talks about the travel restrictions of immigrants who are undocumented. You told the story of a young man who was able to go back to Ecuador to see his grandmother, who he hadn’t seen in many years because as a DACA recipient he was finally able to get advance parole and leave the country.
Daniela Alulema: Absolutely, yes. One of the benefits of the DACA program is advance parole. We don’t have an exact number of how many DACA recipients have been able to use
this legal channel to travel abroad, but we know anecdotally that hundreds have been able to go back to their countries to visit family members that they haven’t seen in decades. In some cases, others have been able to use advance parole for work purposes. Others have been able to study abroad, thanks to this possibility.
One aspect and something to keep in mind for the future with advance parole is that one of the grounds for its approval is that it has to be a humanitarian-related reason. Many times, the agency that adjudicates the paperwork, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) wants to see you either visit an ill family member or maybe attend a funeral. We should ask the government to also include more positive reasons to visit family – not only sad situations but also family reunification. Advance parole should be used for that purpose as well.
Jack Hoeffner: Let’s move on from the article, which I think is really good and interesting because it does have a lot of demographic information and then you have these personal testimonies that make the information come alive. It’s a fantastic article. “DACA and the Supreme Court” it is called. It’s available in the Journal on Migration and Human Security. The last line of the article says – and you’re talking about the Supreme Court decision which was then pending – “The Supreme Court should act justly and wisely.” It was a pretty good decision, but you mentioned the case in Texas and potential future litigation. What do you expect in the future? Do you have any expectations as to whether the Court – to the extent it did act justly and wisely in the prior case – will continue to do so?
Daniela Alulema: Of course, we hope so. I think we have shown through many years of work how DACA recipients are willing and committed to contribute. We are active members of our communities, and we are Americans in everything but paper.
Another example of that is the high numbers of DACA recipients who are essential workers, who are pretty much in every occupation and industry that’s deemed essential in the middle of
this pandemic. That’s just another illustration of how embedded DACA recipients are in the United States fabric. If the case in Texas goes to the Supreme Court, we hope the court will side with DACA recipients. Given the new composition of the court, that’s still a huge question mark.
There are other policy actions that could be taken. One is at the local and state level. A priority should be to assist as many first-time applicants as possible. DACA has been reopened for first-time applicants since December of 2020. Given the rescission by the Trump administration in 2017, many DACA recipients who were not old enough to apply yet or who didn’t have the financial funds to apply or didn’t meet the educational requirements were not able to apply for the program. Now we have a new generation of eligible DACA recipients who may need support. We need to reactivate those networks of community-based organizations, legal providers, local policymakers, and philanthropists to make sure this new generation is able to obtain their work permit and social security number and deferral from deportation.
At the federal level, we need a permanent fix. The first DREAM Act was introduced in 2001. It’s been 20 years since the DREAM act has been in Congress. It was voted on in 2010, for instance. It passed the House, but we were five votes short in the Senate. It didn’t become law. It’s been a really painful and long wait. The solution here needs to include a permanent fix and a path to citizenship. That’s the only way to ensure that we address this entire issue.
Jack Hoeffner: What is your sense of the likelihood of that coming to pass in the next couple of years?
Daniela Alulema: I think we have a realistic chance. It will require bipartisan support, so we’ll need to make sure that we have quite a few Republican senators and representatives on our side. There is significant public support, and several polls that show that the majority of Americans support a path to citizenship for undocumented young people or DACA recipients or immigrants who arrived as children to the United States. It will require a concerted effort by advocates and organizers to make sure that we’re able to secure that Republican support. It will not be an easy path, but it’s doable and it’s definitely long, long overdue.
Michele Pistone: Well, we’d love to hear what your goals are for for the next year.
Jack Hoeffner: Go to a restaurant?
Daniela Alulema: Get the vaccine! Personally, I’m trying to stay positive, not only because of the pandemic but of course given the uncertainty of the DACA program. I’m trying to also stay positive because we have a new administration in place. That doesn’t mean that we need to stop pushing for change and making sure that we keep our elected officials accountable.
At this point, I’m conducting other research projects at CMS. One, in particular, is looking at the impact of fear on how immigrants access benefits and services in New York City. It’s an exciting project that will take most of the year to complete. I’m trying to not only gather more testimonials and stories from immigrants but also, if possible, connect them with resources and use this research project as a way to educate policymakers and others who work with immigrants. That’s in the works.
Michele Pistone: Thanks so much, Daniela. It was great to have you and to hear about DACA and your important work bringing the voices of immigrants to the forefront. We really enjoyed your article in JMHS and would recommend that others look it up and read it.
Daniela Alulema: Thank you so much, Jack. Thank you, Michele. It was a pleasure to talk to you both.
Emma Winters: If you want to learn more about the Center for Migration Studies’ Journal on Migration and Human Security, please visit: cmsny.org/jmhs.
CMSOnAir’s theme music is provided by The Music Case. For more podcasts like this one, you can follow CMSOnAir on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, or wherever you get your podcasts. To find a full transcript of this episode or get more information on CMS’s research, publications, and events, visit us at cmsny.org.
Recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program have long contributed to the US labor force, economy, and communities, and several are now on the front lines combating the outbreak of COVID-19 and working to prevent the spread of the virus and to support those affected by it. This post provides estimates of the numbers of DACA recipients working in essential industries.
This paper provides estimates on beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) by Roman Catholic archdiocese and diocese (“arch/diocese”) in order to assist Catholic institutions, legal service providers, pastoral workers and others in their work with DACA recipients. In addition, the paper summarizes past estimates by the Center for Migration Studies about DACA recipients, which highlight their ties and contributions to the United States. It also offers resources for Catholic institutions, educators, and professionals that serve this group.
We are pleased that the Supreme Court reversed the termination of DACA and found that the way it was done was “arbitrary and capricious.”