“As the leaders of communities across the country—individuals and institutions that have seen these young people grow up in our communities—we recognize how they have enriched and strengthened our cities, states, schools, businesses, congregations, and families. We believe it is a moral imperative that the administration and the country know we are with them.”
Should the Trump administration decide to withdraw Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that provides undocumented students with temporary legal status and a reprieve from fears of deportation, the future of an estimated 2 million young people will be at stake.
A look at the numbers tells the story of a large population of students whose bridge to opportunity is being collapsed and a nation whose future prosperity is about to be reversed.
Who’s eligible for DACA?
There are an estimated 2 million individuals potentially eligible to apply for DACA. Since June 2012, nearly 800,000 young people who came to this country as children have passed background checks, and been granted permission to live and work in America. As of March 2017, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had accepted about 887,000 applications for DACA.
What do we know about DACA participants?
Surveys suggest that 97 percent of DACA participants are enrolled in school or are employed in the U.S. economy. According to the Migration Policy Institute, among DACA-eligible young people aged 15-32, nearly one-third are enrolled in institutions of higher education or have completed at least some college. Five percent have already completed at least their bachelor’s degree.
What’s at stake if DACA is ended?
By turning its back on DACA-eligible young people, the Trump administration would relegate an estimated 2 million people to the shadows – more people than the population currently living any of the following cities: Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Austin, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Seattle, Denver, Washington, D.C., Boston, Detroit, Nashville, Portland, Oklahoma City, Baltimore, Miami, and New Orleans.
Rescinding DACA would create unclear educational pathways for undocumented youth, a significant proportion of the students enrolled from early learning to high school. It is estimated that undocumented students make up 1.5 percent of all children enrolled in pre-kindergarten to fifth grade and 2.8 percent of students in grades six to 12. Approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school every year.
Providing these students a pathway to postsecondary education and the skills to succeed in the global economy is not only a moral imperative; it is an economic one. Residents with higher levels of education, which DACA allows for, pay more in taxes, spend more, and are more likely to invest in the U.S. economy. And populations with higher levels of education are also more likely to find satisfaction in their work, are more open to new ideas, have a clear sense of self, and participate more frequently in civic and community service.
What should advocates and policymakers do?
Instead of walking away from DACA, we should be expanding opportunities and access for undocumented students by following the lead of the nine states that currently have in-state resident tuition policies, and of California, Texas and Washington, which provide undocumented students with access to state-based financial aid.
At the federal level, Congress should pass the bipartisan, bicameral Dream Act so we can provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients
DACA students came to the United States as children and were educated in U.S. schools. They deserve an opportunity to contribute to the only country they’ve known. Just as they believe in the American Dream, all Americans should believe in them.
Wil Del Pilar, Ph.D., is Vice-President for Higher Education, The Education Trust