In Texas v. United States, Judge Andrew Hanen’s decision to enjoin implementation of the DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents) and expanded DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) programs rested on the court’s finding that the state plaintiffs had standing to bring the lawsuit. Judge Hanen established standing for all 26 state plaintiffs based on the significant “economic injury” that one state (Texas) would incur in performing a fairly mundane state function, processing driver’s license applications from program beneficiaries. He also found support from “the record” that “the federal government’s lack of enforcement, combined with the country’s high rate of illegal immigration, significantly drains the States’ resources.” However, he concluded that an injunction would not redress these latter, “more indirect” damages since, even if the injunction were granted, the DAPA and expanded DACA populations would remain in the United States and would continue, in his view, to burden their states and communities.
One would imagine that states would recognize the manifest benefit of drivers obtaining licenses and car insurance. In addition, notwithstanding the record before Judge Hanen, the United States has aggressively enforced its immigration laws over many years. As for the nation’s high “rate” of “illegal” migration, in fact US-Mexico border crossings, particularly by Mexican nationals, have fallen to levels not seen in decades, causing the substantial decline in the US unauthorized population in recent years. In Texas, the sharp drop in arrivals from Mexico over the past 15 years has had a dramatic effect on population growth. In 2000 to 2004, the unauthorized population in Texas grew by 375,000; in 2005 to 2009 it grew by 100,000. From 2010 to 2013, the unauthorized population in Texas has remained unchanged at 1.7 million.
Numerous studies have also documented the economic benefits from past “legalization” programs, including the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Another set of studies have concluded that DACA and DAPA would bring substantial benefits to individual states and the nation. The Council of Economic Advisers, for example, estimated that the executive actions announced by President Obama on November 20, 2014, including DAPA and expanded DACA, would raise the US gross domestic product (GDP) between $90 and $210 billion in 2024 (in 2014 dollars). Still other studies have highlighted the extraordinary costs and harm that would be caused by deporting 11 million persons, which remains the default policy solution by many politicians to the unauthorized.
Estimates of the unauthorized produced last year by the Center for Migration Studies (CMS) paint a portrait of the unauthorized and, of the DAPA and DACA populations in particular, that is starkly at odds with Judge Hanen’s caricature. Seventy-nine percent of the 1.5 million expanded DACA beneficiaries and 77 percent of the estimated 3.9 million DAPA beneficiaries have resided in the United States for ten years or more. Hardly free-loaders, 96 percent of the DAPA-eligible fall within the prime working ages of 21 to 44, and 93 percent are employed. By definition, every DAPA beneficiary is the parent of either a US citizen (3.5 million), a lawful permanent resident (LPR) (271,000), or both (140,000). More than 800,000 of the DAPA-eligible are married to a US citizen or a legal non-citizen, putting most in this group on a path to a family-based visa and ultimately to citizenship. Ninety percent of the DACA-eligible speak English well or very well. CMS estimates that 262,000 persons would be eligible for both DACA and DAPA.
The United States has already invested substantially in the DACA-eligible; 92 percent (over age 18) have at least a high school education. Because of their relatively young age and the fact that 45 percent are enrolled in school, the education levels of DACA beneficiaries will increase over time. Yet their communities have not realized the full benefit of this investment, which the two programs would allow. More than 60,000 of the DACA-eligible are married to either a US citizen (27,000) or a legal non-citizen (36,000). Moreover, 86 percent of the age 16 and over DACA-eligible are employed. These estimates and others on potential DAPA and expanded DACA beneficiaries can be obtained on a state level via CMS’s new web-tool on the unauthorized at data.cmsny.org.
In Texas, which Judge Hanen found would bear the unremarkable burden of “increased costs associated with processing a wave of additional driver’s licenses,” the long-standing ties and contributions of the DAPA- and DACA-eligible seem to be even more pronounced. Thus, 80 percent of the DACA-eligible and 78 percent of DAPA-eligible Texas residents have lived in the United States for more than 10 years; 94 percent of the DAPA-eligible are employed; and 93 percent of the age 18 or over DACA-eligible have graduated from high school.
Rather than a source of economic injury, the expanded DACA and DAPA programs would position already well-established and productive US residents to contribute even more to their communities and nation. By contrast, their continued marginalization represents an opportunity foregone for US families, communities and the nation, with costs that far exceed driver’s license processing fees.