A Supreme Court decision about the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on the horizon. With new realities brought on by the Coronavirus, it is clearer than ever that Congress should finally pass a legislative solution that will promote economic stability by addressing Dreamers’ immigration status in a way that is in America’s interests.
As any debate over immigration issues is easily mired in differences of perception, often fueled by disinformation, it is important to be specific. DACA was an executive branch program established in 2012 and geared toward a subset of undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States as minors.
This broad group has become known as Dreamers, and the predicament about their status should represent a common-sense fix for legislators. Being brought to the country as minors by their parents or others—at an average age of six—means that they did not choose to break any immigration law in a way that others might. Leaders from across the spectrum recognize that punishing kids for the action of their parents is a fundamentally flawed approach.
Prior to DACA, the legal limbo meant that they were prevented from contributing as fully as possible to their own futures, their families’ well-being, and to our economy at large.
DACA participants had to meet strict requirements, including: being in school or having completed high school, or having served and been honorably discharged from the military; not convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor or three or more other misdemeanors; and were not a threat to national security or public safety. Applicants were also required to provide biometric data, including fingerprints, and undergo background checks by U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). All this after a $495 application fee.
In return, they were granted temporary protection from deportation and the ability to study and work legally in the U.S.
The results have vastly positive for America. The conservative think tank American Action Forum (AAF) found that DACA beneficiaries contribute $42 billion a year to the U.S. economy. The DACA-eligible population pays $3.1 billion in state and local taxes, and $5.7 billion in federal taxes. They contribute almost $2 billion to Social Security and almost $470 million to Medicare every year.
AAF also found that physically removing all Dreamers would cost between $7 billion and $21 billion and reduce U.S. GDP by 0.4 percent.
Economists of all political persuasions have pointed out that without Congressional action, the American economy could lose between $351 billion – $460.3 billion in national GDP, and the federal government could lose $92.9 billion in tax revenue over a ten year period.
Regarding the current pandemic, studies show that immigrants at large are on the front lines of national efforts to combat the Coronavirus. They are a huge portion of the first responders, researchers, and medical professionals. Just like in other areas of government, we should be cutting the enormous amount of red tape in procuring their services, not adding to it.
While any status that allows this population to continue to contribute to the American economy would of course bring benefits to the whole of country, there is still a vast propaganda effort, led by groups who demonize all immigrants. I and other mainstream conservatives have previously highlighted the blatant lies about Dreamers and immigrants in general, but also of the despicable purpose of extremist organizations founded by unabashed white nationalist and eugenicist John Tanton: the Center for Immigration Studies, NumbersUSA, and the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform.
Thankfully, the Tanton Network and their allies’ attacks on Dreamers continue to fail miserably. A full 77% of voters support going beyond granting lesser types of legal status for Dreamers to creating a full pathway to citizenship—support that extends across party lines and all demographic groups.
Most Supreme Court analysts expect it to approve of the DACA termination. If that happens, there will be a large degree of uncertainty for everyone. Of course for DACA participants but also for employers, whose collective compliance costs will run into the billions of dollars across multiple industries, including critical sectors like emergency medical, supported living, nursing, and grocery.
Prior to a decision, the Trump Administration could conceivably ask the Court to delay the case until its next term. Such a move would be highly unusual, but of course the challenges of the current pandemic are unprecedented. Given the circumstances, it is a notion that should be given serious consideration.
In the Coronavirus age, America can hardly afford self-inflicted economic damage. Given the contributions that Dreamers make to America and the need for the essential roles they play in the economy, a failure to act on this issue will be a blow to our great nation’s economic prospects.
Mario H. Lopez is president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, a public policy advocacy organization that promotes liberty, opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.