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In the wake of the November mid-term elections, it is imperative that Congress act to pass legislation enshrining the protections of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program into federal law. Since President Obama signed an Executive Order in 2012 initiating the DACA program, DACA has offered nearly one million young people a temporary stay of deportation in addition to improved access to education and employment by making them eligible for renewable work permits.
Yet, in October of this year, a decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals maintained a stay on the program, prohibiting the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from processing new applications and sending the case back to Texas District Court Judge Andrew S. Hanen. Hanen has long indicated his opposition to DACA and immigrant rights groups have sounded the alarm that DACA is in eminent danger. Should the case make its way to the Supreme Court in 2023, the current SCOTUS is unlikely to uphold DACA protections.
Particularly in the past five years, presidential and legal challenges to DACA have cast DACAmented young people’s lives into uncertainty and precarity, leaving their fates at the mercy of federal court decisions. As university educators, we have long seen our students struggling with this constant uncertainty and with fears around their immigration status. DACA was never meant to be a permanent solution, and its status as an executive action has left its future uncertain, along with the fate of roughly a million immigrant youth. As we head into a new legislative session with a Republican-dominated Congress, we have a dwindling window of time in which to act. We call upon Congress to act swiftly to make this program’s protections permanent.
As social scientists, we have documented the positive impact of DACA on the well-being, educational success, and longer-term career trajectories of young people, their families, and communities. Research has demonstrated that DACA has been the most successful immigrant integration policy in decades. DACA helps college graduates enter the professional workforce improving their financial security and the well-being of their families and communities. Indeed, research from the Immigration Policy Lab reveals that DACA’s positive impact on family well-being even extends across generations to support the mental health of DACA recipients’ U.S.-born children.
DACA recipients also benefit the larger U.S. society. DACAmented young people have been playing critical roles on the frontlines of the coronavirus response through their professional positions in industries such as health care, education, and food services. They pay a collective $6.2 billion in federal taxes and $3.3 billion in state and local taxes annually. DACA eligible residents’ total spending power is estimated to be about $20.2 billion, according to the Higher Education Immigration Portal. DACA recipients are community leaders, working for more than two decades to build a national immigrant rights movement to advocate not only for themselves but also their family and community members. They also engage in everyday activism, educating fellow students and co-workers about immigrant rights and providing services and facilitating access to resources for immigrants living in their communities.
It is time to end the years of legal uncertainty surrounding DACA through Congressional action. Congress must use this lame duck period to enact immigration reform that will enshrine the protections of DACA into federal law. It must offer a path to permanent legal status and citizenship for young people and their families. As anthropologists of migration and education, we stand with undocumented students, their allies, and other immigrant rights groups calling for Congressional action now to permanently protect DACA recipients so they can continue to contribute to their communities and our society—and live lives of security and prosperity.
We acknowledge and thank the Anthropologist Action Network for Immigrants and Refugees (AANIR) Section of the American Anthropological Association for proposing and subsequently drafting this statement.