June 15 was anniversary number eleven of the executive order issued in 2012 by then Democratic President Barack Obama, creating Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Much has changed for this group of the so-called Dreamers, but unfortunately little has changed with the politicians who continue on without establishing a permanent migration solution that would legalize them.
Moreover, Republicans continue to attack the program in the courts and, in fact, thousands of people who could have benefited from deportation protection and work permits have not been able to do so, because the litigation doesn’t allow new applications to be submitted.
It is widely documented that Obama issued the order creating DACA in the midst of enormous political pressure led by the Dreamers themselves.
It was 2012, a general election year, and the discontent among Latino voters was more than evident, not only owing to the high number of deportations during the Obama administration, but also because he did not offer any relief to the Dreamers. After saying that he could not do anything at the executive level, the pressure was such that Obama announced the DACA program on June 15 of that year. And then, he was reelected with support of a greater margin of the Latino vote than in 2008—71% in 2012, compared to 67% in 2008.
Since then, there have been many failed attempts to provide a permanent legislative solution for the Dreamers, whether on their own or as part of broad-scale immigration reform.
The organization FWD.us issued a comparative study about Dreamers who benefited from DACA in 2012 and their situation today, in 2023. The findings are revealing. It’s not just that they are no longer students, but professionals who have created their own families in the only country they know as home, and which they help and make better on a daily basis.
The report shows that: when the DACA policy launched, DACA recipients were generally younger people who were in high school, or who were just beginning their college education or their careers. According to FWD.us estimates, the average age of DACA recipients in 2012 was 21 years. At that time, nearly half (45%) of approved applicants were enrolled in high school or college, while a slight majority (60%) participated in the labor force. For this first group, only slightly more than two-thirds (77%) had graduated from high school, and roughly a third (35%) had attained some college education. As many were in school or just beginning careers, DACA recipients earned a median income of only $4,000 per year.
Eleven years later, the analysis finds that the overwhelming majority (at least 86%) of this initial group of DACA recipients from 2012 now participates in the labor force, while a small share is enrolled in a college or university program (less than 10%). Nearly all DACA recipients—99%—have graduated from high school, and about half (at least 48%) have attained at least some college education. This first cohort of DACA recipients has increased their median income sevenfold since 2012, and since DACA’s start has contributed $108 billion to the economy as well as $33 billion in combined taxes. Many are now building families too: more than one-third (39%) of DACA recipients in this cohort have married, and nearly half (48%) now have at least one child in the home.
What the results of this study show is one of the most irrefutable truths about the Dreamers’ experience: that they have already made their lives here and are so integrated into the U.S. social fabric that it’s impossible to conceive of this nation without their presence.
First, because they achieved the protection of this program with their own struggle; second, because throughout all these years they have not stopped defending their right to be recognized as an integral part of the United States; and third, because they—with their work, academic knowledge, and entrepreneurial spirit—have become one of the greatest examples of what the U.S. spirit represents.
That’s why every research study about DACA tells us the Dreamers add more than $40 billion per year to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which translates into almost six times more than the $7 billion DACA costs the United States.
Dreamers’ progress and their contributions to the economy constitute a white-gloved slap in the face to anti-immigrant people who perhaps resent their progress, being largely immigrants of color. But this blindness ignores that these migrants’ advancement means more taxes and more contributions to programs, like Social Security and Medicare, that benefit the entire country.
However, the racism of the ultra-conservative sector and the Democrats’ lack of guts to confront them bring us to another DACA anniversary without a permanent solution.
Despite this, the Dreamers have already forged their own chapter in this country’s history.