Today marks the first year anniversary of the implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) initiative and there are overwhelmingly positive outcomes to celebrate as well as important lessons to learn. According to the most recent statistics, USCIS has received 573,704 applications since the program was implemented a year ago. Of those, 430,236 have been approved. Submission and approval rates aside, the one year anniversary of the program also offers an opportunity to look back at DACA’s impact on the lives of the young people who received it.
According to a report by sociologists Roberto Gonzales and Veronica Terriquez based on the National UnDACAmented Research Project (NURP), young adult DACA recipients experienced a marked increase in opportunities for economic and social incorporation. Drawing on the most comprehensive survey of DACA recipients to date, the study shows that after being granted DACA, 61% of recipients were able to obtain a new job, 54% opened a bank account, 61% obtained a driver’s license, and 38% got their first credit card. These achievements indicate that even a temporary regularization of status can have a tremendous impact on the economic and social incorporation of immigrants. The findings also support the well-established notion that undocumented status blocks immigrants’ potential for integration, hindering their productivity, mobility, mental health, and capacity to fully contribute as members of society.
While DACA does not confer permanent lawful status, the initiative recognizes deferred action recipients as “lawfully present” under federal immigration laws and temporarily suspends deportation and authorizes approved applicants to work in the United States. In practice, DACA enables immigrants who were brought to the country as children to partake in important rites of passage to adulthood. The ability to secure a job, obtain a driver’s license or credit card, and open a bank account are achievements that not only hold material value, but have important symbolic implications. Such accomplishments allow young recipients to move forward in life, to have hope, to feel part of the community, and to relate in more productive ways to their peers and other members of society. In other words, bringing young people out of the shadows ultimately results in a stronger community.
From a research perspective, DACA constitutes an invaluable opportunity to assess the effects of authorizing people to be in the United States lawfully. At the same time, it offers important insights with respect to the program’s limitations. Since its inception, DACA was conceived as a political short-term solution in the absence of immigration reform. As a consequence, the solution offered was not only temporary but also partial in its sole focus on young people, to the exclusion of their families. But for these young aspiring Americans, families are essential, and having their parents or siblings at risk of deportation inevitably affects their lives as well. As shown by the NURP report, among the DACA recipients surveyed, the majority reported that their fathers, mothers, or siblings could benefit from comprehensive immigration reform.
On balance, DACA better positions young immigrants to pursue their dreams as Americans and the evidence presented here indicates that given the opportunity, young immigrants can become quickly incorporated under the right conditions. Building on this experience, it is time to transform this temporary fix into a permanent solution by opening a path to legalization and citizenship for not only these young immigrants but also their families.
Photo Courtesy of Adam Wilson.