Last weekend marks the third anniversary of the start of President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative. DACA was welcomed as a landmark program that granted thousands of immigrant youth temporary relief from deportation along with access to work permits, a social security number, and, in some states, eligibility for a driver’s license.
However, DACA provides much greater benefits not only to grantees, but also to their families and our communities broadly, according to a national survey of 467 DACA recipients released in July by the National Immigration Law Center, the Center for American Progress, and Professor Tom K. Wong of the University of California, San Diego.
From Texas to California and across the U.S., nearly all of the 665,000 DACA recipients have been able to advance their education and careers. In the survey, the majority said they got jobs with better pay after DACA -- with an average wage increase of 45 percent -- and now have greater spending power to help their families and contribute to their local economies.
Unfortunately, awareness of the economic benefits of deferred action demonstrated by DACA has often been lost in heated political discourse. That is especially true in the lawsuit filed by Texas and other conservative states against President Obama’s 2014 immigration relief initiatives, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and an expansion of DACA, which led to temporary blocking of their implementation.
The Obama administration has appealed the finding of a Texas federal district court that at least one state, Texas, qualified to file the lawsuit because of costs it would incur to provide driver’s licenses to DAPA and expanded DACA recipients. Notably missing from the court’s analysis was the economic benefit that would come from increased state and local tax revenues.
In Texas, one-third of DACA survey respondents said they bought their first car after qualifying for DACA and a driver’s license. The average state sales tax payment per car, not counting registration and title fees, of these respondents was $647. Most states collect between three and six percent of the auto purchase price in sales tax, plus registration and title fees.
One of the real people exemplified by these numbers is Ana Gutierrez of Texas, who was able to get a driver’s license and buy a car and auto insurance. Ana also got a better job and can now lend her mother financial support. Car dealers and insurance brokers should welcome the prospect of current state residents like Ana becoming eligible for licenses and being able to afford cars. And communities nationwide should embrace more licensed and insured drivers, which makes everyone safer on the road.
Beyond new car purchases, DACA has yielded other major economic benefits and significantly impacts the lives of recipients and their families.
Of DACA survey respondents, 65 percent are in school and 92 percent said DACA improved their scholastic options. Their employment picture also brightened, with 69 percent stating they moved to a better paying job; 57 percent said that their new jobs better fit their qualifications and 54 percent said their post-DACA jobs had better working conditions.
Luis Colula, a Californian who participated in the survey, benefitted from DACA on multiple levels. He wanted to attend law school after graduating from UCLA in 2009, but he could not afford it with the wages he earned as a restaurant server.
DACA approval in 2013 literally changed his life. Luis was almost immediately offered a higher paying job with health care benefits at an immigration law firm. The job helped him gain experience that made him a stronger candidate for the University of San Francisco School of Law, where he was admitted in 2014. While saving money for school, his DACA permit allowed him to apply for a private loan to pay for his education, which required him to have lawful presence in the U.S. He also got a driver’s license, which allowed him to travel to northern California without the fear of being stopped and questioned about his status or lack of license. This summer, Luis received advance parole, which allowed him to work at a prestigious law firm’s office in Mexico.
“Having DACA and advance parole provided me with the opportunity to see my family in Mexico and the opportunity to gain international experience in the legal field which will help me in my career,” he said. These opportunities for independence, growth, and development would not have been available to Luis without DACA.
As Luis’ story shows, employment opportunities are limited for those without DACA. Opportunities for undocumented students to pursue higher education also are limited by multiple factors, including the cost of tuition and lack of financial aid. Even states that offer in-state tuition rates regardless of immigration status, leave undocumented youth wondering how they will be able to cover tuition out-of-pocket, and how they will manage without work authorization after graduation.
DACA has positively changed lives for youth, their families and their communities. And for all states, including those behind the lawsuit against DAPA and expanded DACA, their economies would benefit further if only they turned down the inflammatory politics and took a closer look at the increased tax revenues they would gain.
Rodriguez is Equal Justice Works fellow at the National Immigration Law Center.