On Tuesday, the Trump administration announced the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program Barack Obama created in 2012. The administration also called on Congress to come up with a legislative replacement before the program fully expires on March 5, 2018.
Rumors have been circulating about the fate of DACA since the election of President Donald J. Trump. As an Executive Order, DACA can be rescinded with the stroke of a pen. For this reason, I can agree with President Trump on one thing: a legislative solution is needed.
DACA temporarily protects 800,000 undocumented youth from deportation and provides them with a Social Security number and a work permit. DACA was meant to be a temporary measure implemented while Congress figured out immigration reform. Congress, however, has not made any steps towards immigration reform – and undocumented migrants have been left in limbo. Congress has not passed any major immigrant legalization laws since 1986. In the absence of immigration reform, the undocumented migrant population has grown to 11 million people over the past 30 years.
Many of these undocumented migrants came to the United States as children, and DACA is intended to protect these youth from deportation. The average age of arrival for DACA recipients is six years old. Most DACA recipients have thus spent their formative years in the United States. This country is where they first enrolled in school, graduated from high school, enrolled in college, and secured their first job.
When the DACA repeal is fully implemented, youth who currently have DACA would eventually lose their work permits and consequently access to employment in the formal economy. DACA has had a noticeably positive impact on its beneficiaries. DACA-mented youth have been able to secure better economic opportunities, get driver’s licenses, and open bank accounts. DACA has also made higher education a possibility for many youths, as their ability to work has helped finance their education.
DACA has been beneficial not only for its recipients but also for their children, nearly all of whom are U.S. citizens. A recent article in Science found that DACA improved health outcomes for the children of DACA recipients.
In addition to a work permit, DACA provides youth with security from deportation. A very small percentage of youth who currently have DACA will leave once their permits expire. The vast majority will stay in the United States – where they will live under the constant threat of deportation.
The DACA program has existed for five years, and Congress has been debating immigration reform for at least 16 years. Six months is very little time for Congress to develop a permanent solution. Nevertheless, it is imperative that they do.
This legislative fix must include not only DACA recipients but all undocumented migrants. The undocumented migrant population in the United States is largely made up of settled migrants who have no intention of returning to their country of origin. About two-thirds of undocumented adults have lived in the United States for over a decade. The failure to offer legalization options to undocumented migrants does not mean that these migrants will self-deport. Instead, they will continue to live in the shadows and be vulnerable to exploitation.
It is not feasible to deport 11 million people. Long-term settled migrants have not left in droves – even under a regime of mass deportation. The only solution left is mass legalization and a re-thinking of our immigration laws. Six months is not a lot of time to do this, but it is the only option.