Are DACA and the DREAM Act Good for America?

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Portraits of Dreamers
Source: Faces of Daca, facesofdaca.us (accessed Feb. 14, 2018)

DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is an Obama administration policy implemented on June 15, 2012. [1] [2] DACA prevents the deportation of some undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and allows those immigrants to get work permits. [1] The undocumented immigrants who participate in the program are referred to as Dreamers, a reference to the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) that was first introduced in the Senate on Aug. 1, 2001 by Orrin Hatch (R-UT) but did not pass. [1]

President Trump rescinded DACA on Sep. 5, 2017, saying the program “helped spur a humanitarian crisis,” but federal court rulings blocked plans to end the program. [23] [25] [26] After initially declining to hear an appeal from the Trump Administration, the Supreme Court heard arguments in three DACA cases on Nov. 12, 2019.[24] [27] [28] [29] [30]

On Mar. 27, 2020, lawyers for plaintiffs seeking to continue DACA submitted a brief to the US Supreme Court stating that “Termination of DACA during this national emergency would be catastrophic.” Their reasoning was that DACA recipients working in healthcare were essential to fighting COVID-19 (coronavirus) and that halting immigration enforcement would enable all Dreamers to comply with public health measures urging people to stay at home to slow the transmission of the virus. [31]

On June 18, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration had not given adequate justification for ending the program, leaving DACA in place. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion, “The dispute before the Court is not whether [Department of Homeland Security] may rescind DACA. All parties agree that it may. The dispute is instead primarily about the procedure the agency followed in doing so.” [41]

Proponents of DACA and the Dream Act say the policies are good for the US economy and that deporting Dreamers is inhumane and cruel. Opponents of DACA and the Dream Act say the polices only encourage more illegal immigration and that amnesty should not be given to law breakers.

Are DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and the DREAM Act Good for America?

Pro 1

DACA and the DREAM Act are good for the US economy.

The Center for American Progress stated, “DACA has been unreservedly good for the U.S. economy” and that DACA recipients will “contribute $460.3 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product [GDP] over the next decade—economic growth that would be lost were DACA to be eliminated.” [6] California, which has the most DACA recipients of any state, could see a $11.6 billion decline in GDP if DACA were ended. [7] Texas, which had the second largest DACA population, stood to lose $6.3 billion. [7]

If the Dream Act were passed, it would add $22.7 billion annually to the US GDP, and up to $400 billion over the next decade. [8] Benjamin Harris, MBA, former Chief Economist and Economic Advisor to Vice President Biden, stated: “Individuals eligible for the DACA program tend to be higher-skilled than their ineligible counterparts, simply because the typical DACA-eligible immigrant arrived in the America at age six and was educated in the U.S. Put differently, sending DACA participants back to their home countries would be a waste of billions in human capital already invested in the young immigrants.” [9]

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Pro 2

Deporting Dreamers is inhumane and cruel.

Arriving at a median age of six years old, many Dreamers do not remember life in their birth countries, have not met family members in those countries, and do not speak the native language fluently.[15] President Obama, responding to President Trump’s plan to end DACA, stated, “To target these young people is wrong… It is self-defeating – because they want to start new businesses, staff our labs, serve in our military, and otherwise contribute to the country we love. And it is cruel. What if our kid’s science teacher, or our friendly neighbor turns out to be a Dreamer? Where are we supposed to send her? To a country she doesn’t know or remember, with a language she may not even speak?” [16]

Many DACA recipients are well-integrated into families, communities, schools, and workplaces throughout the country. [7] Thiru Vignarajah, JD, former Deputy Attorney of Maryland, stated, “to deport immigrants raised in America since they were children for the supposed sins of their parents is the definition of cruel and unusual punishment — expelling a person to a country they do not know because of a decision they did not make is as spiteful as it is bizarre.” [17]

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Pro 3

DACA recipients are vital members of the American workforce and society.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) said that 900 DACA recipients were serving in the US military and 20,000 were schoolteachers, including 190 Dreamers in the Teach for America program. [35] [36] The Association of American Medical Colleges said in October 2019 that the US health care system would be caught unprepared to fill the void left by deported Dreamers. [37]

In Mar. 2020, lawyers for Dreamers seeking to uphold the program in the Supreme Court wrote, “Healthcare providers on the frontlines of our nation’s fight against COVID-19 rely significantly upon DACA recipients to perform essential work. Approximately 27,000 DACA recipients are healthcare workers—including nurses, dentists, pharmacists, physician assistants, home health aides, technicians, and other staff—and nearly 200 are medical students, residents, and physicians.” [31]

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Con 1

DACA and the Dream Act only encourage more illegal immigration.

Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said that DACA “encouraged more illegal immigration and contributed to the surge of unaccompanied minors and families seeking to enter the U.S. illegally.” [10] According to Karl Eschbach, PhD, DACA will increase the undocumented population because those who don’t qualify for DACA will stay in the hopes of qualifying eventually, and more people will immigrate assuming coverage by DACA or a similar program. [13]

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) stated, “The Dream Act will only encourage more illegal immigration. One only needs to look at history to see how amnesty has played out in the past. The 1986 amnesty legislation legalized about three million illegal immigrants. But rather than put an end to illegal immigration, the amnesty only encouraged more.” [14] The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) included the legalization of about three million undocumented immigrants. Following the act’s implementation, between 1990 and 2007, the population of unauthorized immigrants in the United States shot up to 500,000 per year, peaking at 12.2 million. [33][34]

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Con 2

Amnesty should not be given to law breakers.



A country fairly enforcing its own laws is not cruel.David Benkoff, MA, Senior Policy Analyst at The Daily Caller noted that Dreamers are “victims of their parents… [and] it’s stunningly callous and cruel that they would knowingly subject their own children to such risks.” [18] Dreamers have already broken the law by crossing the border illegally and remaining in the country without documentation.

The Center for Immigration Studies stated that many Dreamers also commit work-related crimes such as Social Security fraud, forgery, perjury on I-9 employment forms, and falsification of ID cards. [20] Since 2012, 1,500 Dreamers have lost their DACA status because of gang involvement or other criminal activity. [21] Dreamers are only disqualified if they are convicted of a crime, which according to Ronald W. Mortensen, PhD, means “Dreamer gang-bangers, Dreamer identity thieves, Dreamer sexual predators, Dreamers who haven’t paid income taxes, and Dreamers committing a wide range of other crimes all qualify for DACA status as long as they haven’t been convicted of their crimes.” [20]

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Con 3

DACA sets a bad precedent for letting presidents circumvent the legislative branch.



President Trump noted in his announcement to rescind DACA that President Obama knew he shouldn’t make immigration policy unilaterally, “and yet that is exactly what he did, making an end-run around Congress and violating the core tenets that sustain our Republic.” [38] US Presidents shouldn’t be able to set legislative policy by executive orders; rather they should seek approval from Congress in accordance with the Constitution. [39]

Elizabeth Murrill, JD, Solicitor General of Louisiana, said, “No matter one’s views on the policy principles motivating DACA, we should all be able to agree that the executive cannot legislate by fiat… The core of DACA’s substantive unlawfulness is its grant of “lawful presence” to hundreds of thousands of aliens whom Congress has declared to be unlawfully present.” [40]

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Protestors against DACA
Source: Ed Kilgore, “Trump Administration Comes out for Path to Citizenship, a.k.a. Amnesty, for Dreamers,” nymag.com, Oct. 3, 2017
What Are DACA and the Dream Act?

The DREAM Act would have implemented similar policies as DACA via legislation instead of a presidential memo. [3] Many versions of the DREAM Act have been introduced by both parties and have failed to pass. An effort was introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) on July 20, 2017. [4]

In order to qualify for DACA, the undocumented immigrants are required to meet certain criteria:

  • under 31 years old as of June 15, 2012
  • have come to the United States before their 16th birthday
  • lived in the United States continuously from June 15, 2007 to the present
  • physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012 and at the time of application
  • have come to the United States without documents before June 15, 2012 or have had their lawful status expire as of June 15, 2012
  • currently in school, have graduated from high school or earned a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or military
  • have not been convicted of a felony or “significant misdemeanors” (such as DUI), or three or more misdemeanors of any kind [1]

Enrollment in the program requires renewal every two years. [1]

Who Are Dreamers?

About 650,000 undocumented immigrants were enrolled in DACA as of Sep. 30, 2019. [22] The majority of Dreamers were born in Mexico (80.2%), followed by El Salvador (3.8%) [22] The top ten countries of origin were rounded out by Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, South Korea, Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, and Argentina. [22] While the majority of Dreamers are from Mexico or Central and South America, many were born in Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa. [22]

California is home to the most DACA recipients (186,120), including 81,180 who live in the Los Angeles metro area. Texas has the second-most DREAMers (108,730), followed by Illinois (34,330). [22] The average Dreamer is 21 to 25 years old (37.7%), a woman (53%), and not married (76.1%). [22]

A 2019 Marquette Law School poll found that 53% of US adults opposed ending DACA while 37% were in favor of terminating the program. [32] A CNN poll in 2018 found that 84% of respondents believed DACA should continue, allowing Dreamers to remain in the country; 11% thought the program should be stopped and Dreamers should be subject to deportation; and 5% had no opinion. [5]

Undocumented immigrant boys assemble for medical screenings at a Nogales processing center
Source: Dara Lind, “14 Facts That Help Explain America’s Child-Migrant Crisis,” vox.com, July 29, 2014

Footnotes:

  1. Undocumented Student Program, “DACA Information,” undocu.berkeley.edu (accessed Jan. 30, 2018)
  2. Homeland Security, “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA),” dhs.gov, Jan. 29, 2018
  3. Orrin Hatch, “S.1291 – DREAM Act,” congress.gov, June 20, 2002
  4. Lindsey Graham, “Graham, Durbin Introduce Bipartisan Dream Act to Give Immigrant Students a Path to Citizenship,” lgraham.senate.gov, July 20, 2017
  5. SSRS, “CNN January 2018,” cnn.com, Jan. 19, 2018
  6. Tom K. Wong, et al., “DACA Recipients’ Economic and Educational Gains Continue to Grow,” americanprogress.org, Aug. 28, 2017
  7. Nicole Prchal Svajlenka, Tom Jawetz, and Angie Bautista-Chavez, “A New Threat to DACA Could Cost States Billions of Dollars,” americanprogress.org, July 21, 2017
  8. Fracesca Ortega, Ryan Edwards, and Philip E. Wolgin, “The Economic Benefits of Passing the Dream Act,” americanprogress.org, Sep. 18, 2017
  9. Benjamin Harris, “Why Your Economic Argument against Immigration Is Probably Wrong,” fortune.com, Sep. 11, 2017
  10. Bob Goodlatte, “Goodlatte Statement on Ending Executive Overreach on Immigration,” goodlatte.house.gov, Sep. 5, 2017
  11. Jeh Johnson, “United States Border Patrol Southwest Family Unit Subject and Unaccompanied Alien Children Apprehensions Fiscal Year 2016,” cbp.gov, Oct. 18, 2016
  12. US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement, “Unaccompanied Children’s Services,” www.acf.hhs.gov (accessed Jan. 29, 2016)
  13. Karl Eschbach, “Exhibit 14 – Declaration of Karl Eschbach, Ph.D.,” scribd.com, Jan. 6, 2015
  14. Lamar Smith, “DREAM Act Rewards Illegal Immigrants for Law-Breaking,” thehill.com, May 20, 2011
  15. Alicia Parlapiano and Karen Yourish, “A Typical ‘Dreamer’ Lives in Los Angeles, Is from Mexico and Came to the U.S. at 6 Years Old,” nytimes.com, Jan. 23, 2018
  16. Andrew Rafferty, “Obama on DACA: Trump’s Decision to End Program ‘Cruel’ and ‘Wrong,'” nbcnews.com, Sep. 5, 2017
  17. Thiru Vignarajah, “Deporting Dreamers Is as Cruel and Unusual as It Gets,” seattletimes.com, Nov. 12, 2017
  18. David Benkoff, “Let Dreamers Stay – If Their Parents Go,” dailycaller.com, Sep. 4, 2017
  19. Adam Edelman and Kasie Hunt, “Steve King: Dreamers Can ‘Live in the Shadows’ after DACA Ends,” nbcnews.com, Sep. 6, 2017
  20. Ronald W. Mortensen, “DACA: Granting Amnesty to Dreamers Committing Crimes while Abandoning Their Victims,” cis.org, Mar. 10, 2017
  21. Nina Shapiro, “Seattle Judge Won’t Immediately Release ‘Dreamer’ from Detention Center,” seattletimes.com, Feb. 17, 2017
  22. US Citizenship and Immigration Services, “Approximate Active DACA Recipients – Sep. 30, 2019,” uscis.gov, Jan. 14, 2020
  23. Adam Edelman, “Trump Ends DACA Program, No New Applications Accepted,” nbcnews.com, Sep. 5, 2017
  24. Donald Trump, Twitter post, Sep. 5, 2017
  25. Brett Samuels, “Judge Blocks Trump Move to End DACA,” thehill.com, Jan. 9, 2018
  26. Reuters, “Another Judge Blocks Trump Administration from Ending DACA Program,” nbcnews.com, Feb. 13, 2018
  27. Joseph P. Williams, “Supreme Court Doesn’t Act on DACA Appeal,” usnews.com, Feb. 20, 2018
  28. Richard Wolf and Alan Gomez, “Supreme Court Snubs Trump, Keeps DACA Immigration Program in Place for Now,” usatoday.com, Feb. 26, 2018
  29. Pete Wiliams, “In Blow to Trump, Supreme Court Won’t Hear Appeal of DACA Ruling,” nbcnews.com, Feb. 26, 2018
  30. Nina Totenberg, “DACA Recipients Look to Supreme Court for Hope,” npr.org, Nov. 12, 2019
  31. Michael J. Wishnie, et al., “Re: Wolf, et al., v. Batalla Vidal, et al., No. 18-589,” supremecourt.gov, Mar. 27, 2020
  32. Charles Franklin, “New Nationwide Marquette Law School Poll Finds Confidence in U.S. Supreme Court Overall, Though More Pronounced among Conservatives,” law.marquette.edu, Oct. 21, 2019
  33. Jynnah Radford and Luis Noe-Bustamante, “Facts on U.S. Immigrants, 2017,” pewresearch.org, June 3, 2019
  34. Hans Johnson and Laura Hill, “Illegal Immigration,” ppic.org, 2011
  35. White House, “Remarks by President Trump in Meeting with Bipartisan Members of Congress on Immigration,” whitehouse.gov, Jan. 9, 2018
  36. Dick Durban, “Durbin: Let’s Show The American Dream Is Still Alive by Passing the Dream Act,” durbin.senate.gov, Sep. 12, 2017
  37. Adam Liptak, “‘Dreamers’ Tell Supreme Court Ending DACA During Pandemic Would Be ‘Catastrophic’,” nytimes.com, Mar. 27, 2020
  38. Donald Trump, “Statement from President Donald J. Trump,” whitehouse.gov, Sep. 5, 2017
  39. Hans A. von Spakovsky, “It’s Time to End DACA – It’s Unconstitutional Unless Approved by Congress,” foxnews.com, Jan. 23, 2019
  40. Elizabeth Murrill, “Symposium: DACA Is Unlawful,” scotusblog.com, Sep. 13, 2019
  41. John Kruzel, “Supreme Court Blocks Trump Plan to End DACA Program,” thehill.com, June 18, 2020