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The DACA Kids Are All Grown Up

by matthew la corte

matthew la corte is the government affairs manager for immigration policy at the Niskanen Center in Washington. This article is adapted from commentary posted on the Niskanen website.

Published May 24, 2022


As you may or may not remember, President Obama issued an executive order way back in 2012 that temporarily halted expulsions of immigrant children who had been brought to the United States without documentation. Protecting these so-called Dreamers under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has always been the decent thing to do. And, thus far, their good behavior has made very clear that decency was also good public policy. 

Memory Lane

But time does fly. We’ve been bickering about a permanent Dreamer solution for so long that many of those youths are now all grown up. When the DACA program started a decade ago, less than a quarter of those included were older than 25. The latest DACA data from the government, from September 2021, shows that nearly 30 percent are 30 or older. Indeed, this year some of them are turning 40. 

Not surprisingly, the latest data from the federal government confirms that the program’s beneficiaries are ticking off major life milestones. More than a quarter of them — 155,000 — are now married, and 12,000 have already divorced. Tragically, nearly 500 are widowed.

A 2021 survey conducted by the Center for American Progress found that one-fifth of respondents who were 25 years and older have purchased their first homes since receiving DACA status. That means tens of thousands have mortgages and pay local property taxes. The CAP survey also found that nearly one-third of current DACA protectees have children (99 percent of whom are U.S. citizens) — meaning that almost 200,000 DACA holders are parents.

This shift, from DACA holders as kids to adult parents, has significant implications for the Dreamers policy, especially in light of ongoing litigation. Withdrawing DACA protection would no longer hurt only the Dreamers, it would also hurt employers, spouses and a new generation of kids. Mid-career professionals would lose their jobs, while the parents of U.S. citizens would be forced to leave the country.

Consider, too, that the CAP survey found that 80 percent of respondents are employed. The overheated U.S. labor market, desperate for workers in nearly all sectors, can’t afford to lose hundreds of thousands of employees in the next few years.

The Anti-Immigrant Challenge

DACA is in serious legal peril. In July 2021, U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen of the Southern District of Texas ruled DACA unlawful, but temporarily stayed the part of his decision that would halt protection for current DACA recipients. The Biden administration is currently finalizing a new regulation to strengthen the legal basis of the DACA program. Still, many doubt that Judge Hanen will accept the Biden administration’s justifications, and he could terminate the program, rendering it likely that DACA will be back before the Supreme Court for a ruling in 2023.

DACA is certainly on questionable legal footing. Still, there is absolutely no doubt that the program has proved an enormous success for both recipients and their families, and the U.S. as a whole. As a result of that success, we must recognize that Dreamers are now our colleagues, our children’s teachers and fellow parents. We must commit to protecting them with the same fervor as when they were children.

main topic: Migration
related topics: Policy & Regulation