DACA Decoded: 8 Cold, Hard Facts About a Human Problem
DACA is back in the news, and the debate has escalated. Here’s how this affects you as an employer.
On September 5, the decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (commonly known as DACA) was announced, and the waves of reactions and media commentary began. DACA was created to help individuals brought to the U.S. illegally as children, and many participants are now either current students or skilled workers participating in the economy. One or more of them may even be your employee(s)! And with nearly 800,000 young adults dependent on the program, this decision will affect us all as business owners.
The fate of DACA recipients has not officially been decided. President Trump asked Congress to find alternative legislative solutions, but has recently followed up with an extensive and stringent list of requirements for any deal.
As an employer, here’s what you need to know about the program, the people it protects, and what happens next.
- Recipients of DACA are called Dreamers. They are unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
The Dreamers earned their moniker from a failed 2001 bill called the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which was designed to create a path to citizenship for people brought to the United States as children. President Obama created DACA as an executive order on June 15th, 2012, after the DREAM Act stalled in Congress. Instead of a path to citizenship, DACA offered a two-year protection from deportation and a permit to work legally. Beneficiaries could apply for renewal at the end of that time.
- There are very specific requirements for recipients to be DACA-eligible.
To be DACA-eligible, applicants must meet the following criteria:
- They first moved to the US before their 16th birthday
- They have lived continuously in the United States from June 2007 to the present
- They were under 31 years old as of June 15, 2012
- They came to the United States without documents before June 15, 2012
- They must either currently be a student, have graduated from high school, have earned a GED, or be a member of the military
- They cannot have been convicted of any felonies or significant misdemeanors (including DUIs)
- Applicants must pay $495 in fees and are advised to consult with a lawyer before applying
- DACA has allowed recipients numerous freedoms.
The average age at which Dreamers immigrated to America is 6 years old. Many did not know they were illegal until reaching a life milestone that required documentation. The freedoms DACA granted include:
- Dreamers may legally enroll in schools, universities, and the military
- Dreamers may apply for a driver’s license
- Dreamers may work and be paid legally
- Dreamers may file taxes
- Dreamers are contributing to our communities.
The majority of Dreamers are students, employees, and entrepreneurs. Here are a few statistics about their community involvement:
- 91% of DACA recipients are employed, with a median salary of $37,000
- 72% have received or are pursuing a higher education
- Of the 80% who have received driver’s licenses, half are organ donors
- Higher wages are allowing Dreamers to make big purchases such as cars and homes, which benefits the U.S. economy. It is estimated that the U.S. stood to earn $460 billion in GDP in the next decade from DACA recipients
- Many Americans are sympathetic towards DACA recipients.
Despite public contention, citizens and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have expressed their sympathies for Dreamers. They are perceived as high-achieving immigrants, blameless in their illegal status. Many have never returned to visit their country of origin. Some don’t speak the language. Others only have memories of living in America and nowhere else.
According to the latest Howard-Harris survey, 77% of American voters favor a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, provided additional requirements such as fines and back taxes are met.
- The future of DACA Dreamers is unclear.
In September, President Trump asked Congress to create a legislative solution that would protect current Dreamers from deportation. Several bills in play could do just that. However, passing new legislation has just hit a brick-wall-sized speed bump. On October 8, the White House released a long list of demands for any deal on DACA. Among other items, this list includes border wall provisions, mass hiring of immigration agents, tougher laws, and even hardening the U.S. border against unaccompanied children seeking refuge from violence. Time will tell whether any possibility of bipartisan compromise remains.
In the meantime, DACA has stopped accepting new applicants. The official “end date” for DACA is March 5, 2018. For Dreamers whose DACA protections are set to end before that date, they had until October 5 to apply for one last renewal. But for those whose protections end on March 6 or later, they will fall back into unauthorized status and be vulnerable to deportation.
- Losing DACA doesn’t automatically mean your DACA employee will be deported, but it has very serious implications.
Dreamers—including any of your employees who may be affected—will be able to legally stay until their current plan expires. Once their protections expire, however, they will have to leave their jobs to comply with the law, lest they pose a legal risk to their employers. This will make it difficult to impossible for many Dreamers to support themselves.
Then there is the threat of deportation. Because DACA recipients gave extensive personal information when they applied, many of them could easily be tracked down and placed in deportation proceedings once their DACA protections expire.
- There may be serious economic implications.
Business owners must also consider the widespread impact any canceling or renewal of DACA will have on the economy. White House representatives argue that there will be legal and long-term economic costs associated with granting or extending DACA status. Meanwhile, CNBC quoted a potential U.S. GDP drop of $433 billion if DACA is killed, with 21% of small business owners already worried about negative impacts to their businesses.
Finally, we want to mention one last consideration: the human element. These are young people who have grown up as Americans. They have little to no memory of any other country. They are students, employees, car-buyers, homebuyers, and part of the economy. They’ve risked their lives and died for our country. And they’re part of the pool of enthusiastic and highly qualified candidates who raise their hands every time you hire. Many go on to start businesses of their own, becoming employers themselves and further fueling economic growth. So any deal—or the failure to reach one—is going to affect us all.
Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace counsel about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. This material is meant to provide information that is believed to be current as of the date of this post.
Sources consulted include: