New Report on DACA Shows How the Program Increases Economic of Social Mobility for its Recipients

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This coming Tuesday, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments against previous judicial rulings on DACA. The court’s decision will determine the fate of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants who have been living under the threat of deportation, especially since September 2017 when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration would be ending the program because they had determined it was unconstitutional. Lower courts had rebuffed Trump’s efforts to end DACA, allowing the program to continue while the administration appealed those decisions.

On the heels of what will be a closely-followed watched series of hearings at the Supreme Court — the justices won’t issue a ruling until the middle of next year — a new report is out that illustrates how integral the DACA program has been for its recipients. The National UnDACAmented Research Project, led by Harvard professor and researcher Roberto Gonzales, closely followed about 400 DACA recipients over the past seven years to learn how the program has shaped their lives.

According to Gonzales and his team’s research, DACA empowered a majority of these recipients with economic and social mobility. [We] see them taking advantage of new work opportunities by finding their way back to educational programs, then building on these opportunities to add more education and training, starting careers, and moving up in their jobs,” he said in an interview with Harvard Ed News. As a result, they’ve experienced a better quality of life. They’ve settled into new neighborhoods, they’ve improved their living arrangements, they’re taking on car payments and enrolling their children in daycare, and they’re in a much better position to support their parents and other family members.”

These opportunities stem from the fact that having DACA protected status means that a recipient can pursue an education in the same way that their documented peers have been able to do, presenting them the opportunity to advance their careers in a meaningful way. As an example, the report quoted a recipient named Gabriel. “It’s opened up more doors and opportunities. Like now when I apply to medical school because I have DACA I have a Social Security [number]. Medical schools are willing to consider me because I can do residency and all that stuff.” That was in 2015. Today, he is in his third year of medical school.

Because of this increased access to the full gamut of learning and experience, over two-thirds of Gonzales’s group reported being able to double their hourly wage because their protected status allowed them to complete licensing and certification programs toward a career path of their choice. An even larger proportion was able to double or more than double their yearly salaries.

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DACA recipient and appliance repair business owner Erick Marquez holds a sign during a protest in support of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) which provides protection from deportation for young immigrants brought into the US illegally by their parents, September 10, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Gonzales concluded that the opportunity for DACA recipients to realize their own potential is at stake if the Supreme Court upholds the termination of the program. “DACA termination could mean a reversal of the incredible progress made over the last several years. Our hope is that the findings within this report help to illuminate how critical and successful this policy is.”

But, in a separate interview with NBC News, he emphasized that while DACA is one of the country’s most successful immigration policies, it’s “an administrative policy that in nature is temporary.” In other words, it’s simply a stepping stone, albeit a necessary one, to fully integrating undocumented youth into their communities. “In the long term, national legislation that includes a pathway to legalization would resolve most challenges experienced by DACA beneficiaries and their families.”