DACA and the DREAM Act – Top 3 Pros and Cons

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Protesters show their support for dreamers at a pro-DACA rally at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan on September 8, 2017
Source: © Smontgom65/Dreamstime.com

DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is an Obama administration policy implemented on June 15, 2012. DACA prevents the deportation of some undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and allows those immigrants to get work permits. 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] [2]

The DREAM Act would have implemented similar policies as DACA via legislation instead of a presidential memo. Many versions of the DREAM Act have been introduced by both parties and have failed to pass. An effort, S.264, was introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) on Feb. 4, 2021 and the House passed a version, HR. 6, on Mar. 18, 2021. [3] [4] [46] [47]

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

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

As of Mar. 31, 2022, 611,270 people were enrolled in DACA. The Migration Policy Institute estimated in 2021 that 1,159,000 people were eligible for enrollment. California was home to the most DACA recipients (174,070), with Texas (101,340) and Illinois (32,100) following. Mexico remained the most popular country of origin (494,350), followed by El Salvador (23,700) and Guatemala (16,090). DREAMers came from 26 other countries as well, including: Korea, Poland, Canada, Kenya, China, and the Dominican Republic. [45]

History of the Policies

A 2019 Marquette Law School poll found that 53% of US adults opposed ending DACA while 37% were in favor of terminating the program. 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] [32]

A view of the Rio Grande and Texas-Mexico Border from the Hot Springs Canyon in Big Bend National Park
Source: © Photography by Deb Snelson—Moment/Getty Images

President Donald 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. After initially declining to hear an appeal from the Trump Administration, the Supreme Court heard arguments in three DACA cases on Nov. 12, 2019. [23] [24] [25] [26] [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 US 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]

On inauguration day 2021 (Jan. 20), President Joe Biden signed an executive order instructing the Homeland Security Secretary to “preserve and fortify DACA.” [42]

On July 16, 2021, US District Judge Andrew Hanen of the Southern District of Texas ruled DACA was illegal and put a hold on all new applications. Existing enrollees were allowed to remain in the program while the ruling allowed time for the government to consider changes to the program and continue litigation. President Biden has said the federal government will appeal the ruling, which is at odds with a Dec. 2020 federal ruling that required the federal government to process new applications. [43]

The Biden administration finalized a rule on Aug. 24, 2022 to make DACA a federal regulation (instead of a policy). The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rule is set to take effect on Oct. 31, 2022 and will codify the policy in the federal government’s code of regulations. The new regulation purposefully addressed the steps Judge Hanen ruled the Obama administration should have taken in 2012, including making the regulation open to public comment. Whether policy or regulation, however, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is hearing the Biden administration’s appeal of Hanen’s ruling, could still keep DACA closed to new applicants or terminate the program altogether. [44]

On Oct. 5, 2022, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the July 2021 court decision that DACA is illegal. The court stayed the decision and sent the case back to the Federal District Court in Houston. The Biden Administration confirmed it will continue to defend DACA. [48]

For more on the immigration debate in the United States, visit ProCon’s examinations of immigration and sanctuary cites.

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. 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, former Chief Economist and Economic Advisor to then Vice President Joe 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 Barack Obama, responding to President Donald 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, 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.

Former 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, Adjunct Professor at The University of Texas Medical Branch, 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]

Lamar Smith (R-TX), former congressman, 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, 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 (CIS) 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. Since 2012, 1,500 Dreamers have lost their DACA status because of gang involvement or other criminal activity. [20] [21]

Dreamers are only disqualified if they are convicted of a crime, which according to CIS author Ronald W. Mortensen, 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, 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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Discussion Questions

1. Are DACA and the Dream Act good for America? Explain you answer(s).

2. Should other undocumented immigrants be allowed a pathway to citizenship? Why or why not?

3. What other immigration policies would you change? How would you change them? Explain your answer(s).

Take Action

1. Consider the stance of Cato Institute policy analyst David J. Bier that ending DACA would have cost employers billions.

2. Explore updates and news about DACA with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC)

3. Evaluate former Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Tom Homan’s position that DACA should have never been enacted and should be ended.

4. Consider how you felt about the issue before reading this article. After reading the pros and cons on this topic, has your thinking changed? If so, how? List two to three ways. If your thoughts have not changed, list two to three ways your better understanding of the “other side of the issue” now helps you better argue your position.

5. Push for the position and policies you support by writing US national senators and representatives.


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
42.Joseph R. Biden, “Preserving and Fortifying Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA),” whitehouse.gov, Jan. 20, 2021
43.Priscilla Alvarez and Tierney Sneed, "What to Know about DACA Being Ruled Illegal," cnn.com, July 17, 2021
44.Camilo Montoya-Galvez, "Biden Administration Moves to Formalize DACA and Shield It from Legal Challenges," cbsnews.com, Aug. 24, 2022
45Migration Policy Institute, "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Data Tools," migrationpolicy.org, Mar. 31, 2022
46.Congress.gov, "S.264 - Dream Act of 2021," congress.gov (accessed Aug. 26, 2022)
47.Congress.gov, "H.R.6 - American Dream and Promise Act of 2021," congress.gov (accessed Aug. 26, 2022)
48.Eileen Sullivan, "Appeals Court Says DACA Is Illegal but Keeps Program Alive for Now," nytimes.com, Oct. 5, 2022

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