The day an envelope from the U.S. citizenship agency arrived in February 2013, life changed for Juan Escalante, 27.
Originally from Venezuela, he came to the United States with his parents and two younger brothers when he was 11, living undocumented in Florida. With his new immigration status he could finally do things he couldn't before: get a driver's license, find a full-time job with benefits and go to graduate school.
"Without DACA, I just don't know where my life would be today," he said.
That's the case for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants like Escalante who benefitted from President Obama's executive action program, known as DACA, according to a new study released Tuesday.
A national survey of more than 1,300 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients carried out in September 2016 found that the program increases wages, allows for career advancement and creates more educational opportunities. Tom K. Wong of the University of California, San Diego, the Center for American Progress, the National Immigration Law Center and United We Dream produced the report.
"Four years into the policy, it's increasingly clear that DACA is not only positively impacting the lives of undocumented young people, but the policy is also having significant positive effects that extend beyond individual recipients," said Wong on a conference call Tuesday.
The study found that DACA recipients average hourly wages increased 42 percent, meaning more tax revenue and economic growth for all Americans. Beneficiaries were also able to advance their careers: 63 percent got higher-paying jobs, 49 percent got a job that better fit their education and training, and 48 percent got a job with better working conditions.
"There are real consequences to not having the necessary documentation to prove your identity and DACA fixes that," said Ignacia Rodriguez, an immigration policy advocate at the National Immigration Law Center.
Launched in June 2012, DACA allows certain young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to apply for employment authorization and protection from deportation. Since DACA began, almost 742,000 young immigrants have been admitted into the program, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The status does not lead to residency or citizenship and must be renewed every two years. While Obama expanded the program in 2014, removing an age cap and making the status renewable every three years, the expansion was halted by a lawsuit and a tied Supreme Court decision.
How DACA helps immigrants and their communities
The survey found that 95 percent of respondents have jobs or are in school. Of those who are employed, 21 percent work in educational and health services, 11 percent in non-profits, 9 percent in wholesale and retail and 8 percent in professional and business services. About 6 percent started their own businesses -- higher than the national rate of 3.1 percent.
Almost half of the survey respondents said they're currently in school; a majority of students are working simultaneously.
DACA recipients aren't just making an economic impact with higher wages: they're also making high-cost purchases. About 21 percent have bought cars and 12 percent have bought homes.
Plus, these young immigrants are able to access services previously unavailable to them. About 90 percent have received a driver's license or state ID, 47 percent opened a bank account and 57 percent got a credit card.
Also, the survey found that DACA recipients are increasingly able to help their families. About six in 10 respondents said their higher salaries led to financial independence and helped their families financially.
And while DACA recipients can't vote, some of their families can. About 41 percent of survey respondents have an immediate family member who is a U.S. citizen over 18. An August Latino Decisions poll found that a majority of Latino voters are more likely to vote for candidates who will continue DACA.
Greisa Martinez Rosas, advocacy director for the immigrant-led organization United We Dream, knows firsthand about the impact of DACA as a recipient herself. Once she got DACA, she was able to get a job that fit her passions and to buy a house. "Jobs, homes, financial security and peace of mind for millions of people are connected to this program," she said on the conference call Tuesday. "Our long struggle to win this program is paying off."