There’s no doubt that recent implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative is the biggest thing to happen in immigration law in many years. While most of the attention is currently focused on how to make it work, how to apply and how to work out the kinks, it’s important to take a macro view at the ways this program can actually renew the entire conversation on immigration reform.

  1. Reports since the DACA initiative began suggest that many young people are willing to come forward and apply despite concerns about the durability of the program.  In other words, even if the White House were to change hands, DREAMers are willing to bet on the significant, bi-partisan support their cause has gotten this far.  Whether 2013 ushers in a second Obama administration or a new Romney administration, the need to thoughtfully address the plight of more than a million young people is on the table and unavoidable now.
  2. Some have called the DACA initiative a test run for any future large scale immigration program, as it has required the government to quickly implement new policies, manage resources, design forms and provide training.  The ease or difficulty of implementing this new program will provide real and practical information about how quickly the agency can respond to changes. And facts actually do help shape legislative policy.
  3. When the sky doesn’t fall, when social services aren’t overrun, when young people with deferred action become teachers and doctors and engineers, when they proudly put in forty hour work weeks, no matter what their profession, we will have that much more hard evidence that having the legal right to work in this country makes a difference for the individual, the economy, and the community.  This evidence not only benefits the arguments for legalization but for the broader debate over STEM, and expanding employment based green cards and looking at new ways to find the workers we need.   DACA is a social experiment in the making.
  4. DACA will also raise questions about what young people with deferred action may be unable to do without a green card or citizenship.  It can open a debate on civic engagement, the importance of voting and citizenship, and even whether a community’s social structure is defined by the relative temporary or permanent nature of its population.
  5. Similarly, researchers are likely to study with great interest the emotional and personal impact of deferred action, both for those who receive it and those who do not.  Thus, DACA is likely to add to our understanding of the broader social issues of legal status.

Questions like these need to be asked and answered. We have needed the space to discuss them rationally for many years.  So what’s doubly exciting about DACA is that in addition to the benefits it will provide to individual young people, it gives us a new opening for a civil conversation.


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