DACA's Success Led to Its Demise—and Possible Rescue

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Immigration advocates attend a rally outside of Trump Tower in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The program known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, has been an unqualified success. It isn’t being shut down by President Donald Trump or stymied by Congress because of perceived failures. In fact, its success could be the reason why it’s being shut down and could also lead to its eventual comeback.

DACA Succeeds Where Stereotypes Fail

On September 5, the Trump administration announced it was closing the DACA program. Then the ideological stereotypes began. The liberal side treated the issue as being heartless toward poor, downtrodden and desperate people. Most have argued that many Dreamers “have only known the USA” and that opposition to the law is based on racial prejudice.

Conservatives portrayed the immigrants as being, or having the potential to be, criminals, terrorists, and welfare state moochers. Attorney General Jeff Session’s speech on the subject implied as much, while also focusing on state attorneys general lawsuits and his insistence that only Congress should make immigration law.

Neither is right.

In fact, DACA has been a success for its participants (known as “Dreamers”), showing that they neither prey upon society nor are helpless. And Sessions seems to forget Trump’s attempt to use presidential powers on his proposed ban on immigration from several Muslim countries.

A Center for American Progress survey three years after the program began showed that 92 percent pursued educational opportunities not available to them in their home country. Nearly 70 percent got a better job, and more than half use their money to help their families. Those who held a job before the program’s enactment saw their pay increase by nearly 50 percent. Most dreamers are working, and the overwhelming balance are in school. 

And they have good jobs too. In addition to finding better pay, the jobs earned by DACA residents tend to have fine working conditions and fit with what was learned in class. Most have earned an associate’s and bachelor’s degree, and 17 percent are even going to graduate school.

Results from an updated Center for American Progress survey in 2017 show continued success. The new numbers show continued gains in education, earnings, employment, and the ability to be economically independent.

And that’s…well…a problem for some. Why?

Why DACA Is Under Siege

Earlier in the day, I received an email from a local. It has spread across the U.S. and has gotten worked into a letter to the editor from an angry resident or a viral email or Facebook post in recent months. It gets tweaked from time to time, but it contains the same message:

This country is weak, our enemies are making fun of us, we are being invaded by illegals, we are becoming a nation of victims where every Tom, Ricardo and Hasid is a special group with special rights to a point that we don’t even recognize the country we were born and raised in.

Others who cut and paste this message add details like “we will turn off the jobs and benefits magnet (using e-verify).”

DACA faces opposition because it’s available to people born elsewhere and because its recipients are regarded as a “special group.” Opposition is based on a fear of losing jobs, the cost of benefits, and anger.

What Should DACA Supporters Do to Make the Program Permanent?

It’s true that the program is being terminated, but Trump left the door open for congressional action. House Speaker Paul Ryan stated that he would seek a consensus proposal. But little will be done if it’s treated as a poor huddled masses problem, just as it would be a mischaracterization to call Dreamers terrorists, criminals or welfare queens.

DACA has drawbacks, but its positives could lead to its permanency. Here’s how DACA supporters can convince Congress to keep it going.

1) DACA Is Largely Backed by the Business Community

It’s not just the public that wants DACA to become permanent. Support comes from the business community as well. CNN reportsThe business and education communities at large have joined Democrats and many moderate Republicans in supporting the program, citing the contributions to society from the population.”

Indeed, results from that 2015 Center for American Progress (CAP) poll show that one of every five Dreamers bought a car. Sure, most bought a used car instead of a brand-new one, but that’s a shot in the arm for the auto industry. These sales simply wouldn’t have been made otherwise.

And the 2017 CAP survey by Tom K. Wong and his colleagues discovered that Dreamers have business dreams as well. They are far more likely to start a business than the average American, which helps the U.S.’s GDP and all Americans. 

DACA participants’ higher earnings lead them to become financially independent (roughly 70 percent are). And because they are legal, they are paying taxes, instead of earning income that slips through the cracks of income and sales tax laws.

“The data shows that at least 72 percent of the top-25 Fortune 500 companies—including Wal-Mart, Apple, General Motors, Amazon, JP Morgan Chase, Home Depot and Wells Fargo, among others—employ DACA recipients,” writes Wong and his co-authors. “All told, these companies account for $2.8 trillion in annual revenue.”

Working for big business, starting new businesses, and paying taxes…it sounds like what the American people want our own citizens to do.

2) DACA Could Boost the Number of Christians in America

Recently ousted White House aide Steve Bannon claimed the only reason religious institutions support DACA was to get more Dreamers into their churches.

And that’s a bad thing?

There’s a reason churches are pro-Dreamer. Evidence shows church attendance is sharply declining in America, and many Dreamers come from countries in which church attendance is much higher. These young, energetic, often religious people might be what churches—Evangelical, Protestant or Catholic—need to survive.  

3) Most Americans Support DACA 

Every Quinnipiac poll, with the exception of one in 2014, shows that a majority of Americans support allowing Dreamers to apply for citizenship. The most recent Quinnipiac poll from August shows that 63 percent of Americans think Dreamers should be able to apply for citizenship, and another 10 percent want them to remain without citizenship. Only 22 percent want them required to leave, and four percent have no opinion.  

Of course, it’s still a partisan issue. As CBS found in their August poll (taken before Hurricane Harvey), 72 percent of Republicans want a border wall with Mexico. Only 36 percent of Americans agree, as 88 percent of Democrats and nearly two-thirds of independents oppose the border wall.  

Could Dreamers Be the Future of the Republican Party?

To use a sports analogy, deporting Dreamers wouldn’t be like cutting your poorest players. It would be like booting your promising rookie talent because you’re jealous. If they are here to help the team win, isn’t that more important than playing time and who gets the credit?

DACA recipients pay taxes, start businesses, work for big businesses, and go to church. For a political party alarmed by how demographic trends benefit Democrats, it’s clear the smart policy is to recruit this young talent, who already seem aligned with many Republican values.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.  He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.

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