DACA revival offers “limited” certainty for Dreamers

Immigration reform advocates across Arizona welcomed the news this month that a federal judge ordered the full reopening of the DACA program to allow not only current recipients to sign up for another two years but to allow new applicants as well.

Whether the ruling will stand is unknown. But for those who have waited years, it’s still a reason to celebrate, said Reyna Montoya, a DACA recipient who came to Arizona at age 10 with her undodumented parents who were fleeing violence in Tijuana, Mexico. 

Reyna Montoya

“It’s really exciting. We’re talking about 300,000 applicants (in the U.S.) that may be applying,” said Reyna, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Aliento, which works on behalf of DACA youth and undocumented students. 

Arizona reaps economic, intellectual benefits from Dreamers

For Arizona, the court ruling means approximately 25,000 current “Dreamers” and potentially thousands more young adults who can continue to work, attend school and contribute to local, state and federal taxes, said Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. 

“The ruling was a relief for tens of thousands of DACA recipients and those who want to apply for the deferral program who are our friends, neighbors, coworkers and business owners who contribute to the richness of our state,” Hamer said.

Arizona has one of the highest numbers of DACA recipients, who were brought here as young children by their undocumented parents. 

Most are working and going to school, according to a number of studies. Without them, Arizona’s economy would suffer. Phoenix and Mesa rank among the top cities in America that benefit from these young workers and students, according to the public policy research organization, the Center for American Progress (CAP) in Washington, D.C. Of current households in Maricopa County that are eligible for the DACA program, they contribute nearly $235 million in federal taxes and $143 million in state and local taxes each year, CAP research shows. 

With mortgage to pay, this Dreamer dares to hope for a permanent path 

Montoya, who has a master’s degree from Grand Canyon University, a home mortgage, a recently purchased new car and many other trappings of American success, said the court ruling is “exciting” but bittersweet.   

As has occurred ever since DACA was implemented in 2012, each courtroom win for DACA leads to another legal challenge, she said. 

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Trump administration’s 2017 termination of DACA. This month, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in New York fully reinstated the program. 

Today, another federal judge in Houston will hear a challenge to that ruling. Texas and eight other states have sued stating the program is unconstitutional.  

Montoya and other DACA recipients are hoping Congress will end their years of waiting and resolve the matter once and for all.   

“We’re hoping to see, as Joe Biden takes the presidency, that he would make a real effort to work across the aisle with Democrats and Republicans to make sure we have a pathway to citizenship,” she said.

Vast majority of DACA recipients work, half are essential employees 

For Arizona, these young adults not only represent potential employees and entrepreneurs, they are essential employees whose wages benefit the state. 

The vast majority of the nation’s DACA-eligible individuals — 93 percent — are working if they’re not in school, said Jeremy Robbins, the executive director of the national bipartisan immigration research group New American Economy

“More than half of DACA-eligible immigrants are essential workers, and this ruling is a victory for them and their communities,” Robbins said about the recent court ruling.

If DACA recipients are deported, Arizona stands to lose more than $1.3 billion in annual GDP, according to CAP research. Nationally, the loss to the nation would be about $23.4 billion, according to New American Economy. 

DACA’s impact on employment 

A national survey of DACA recipients by the Center for American Progress found that 88.5 percent are currently employed. For those 25 and older, 89.1 percent are working. 

Other survey findings show that after becoming DACA recipients:

  • 63.2 percent of respondents reported moving to a job with better pay
  • 52.8 percent reported moving to a job with better working conditions
  • 52.6 percent reported moving to a job that “better fits my education and training”
  • 54.5 percent reported moving to a job that “better fits my long-term career goals”

Dreamers outpace general population in business creation

DACA recipients also continue to outpace the general population in terms of business creation rates. The survey showed that 6.1 percent of respondents started their own businesses after receiving DACA. Among respondents 25 years old and older, it is 7 percent. 

Moreover, 16.7 percent reported obtaining professional licenses after receiving DACA. This increases to 18.3 percent among respondents ages 25 and older.

Who is eligible for DACA 

When individuals are accepted into the DACA program, they are considered legal residents and can apply for employment authorization. However, there is no direct path from deferred action to lawful permanent residence or to citizenship. And, the status can be revoked at any time by the DHS. 

To apply for DACA, individuals must meet certain criteria including:

  • Were under 31 years of age on June 15, 2012
  • Came to the U.S. while under the age of 16
  • Have continuously resided in the U.S. from June 15, 2007 to the present
  • Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED, or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or armed forces
  • Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor, or more than three misdemeanors of any kind; and do not pose a threat to national security or public safety

For more information, visit: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

Victoria Harker

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