Cameron Ventura, Immigration Activist
Since 2012 the United States has become a safe-haven for a narrow group of young people who migrated here either alone or following their older relatives. Multiple presidents, congressmen/congresswomen, and civilians have agreed for many decades that lack of proper legislation has created a system in which the Federal government seeks to remove from our neighborhoods individuals who contribute deeply to the very fabric of who we are as a people. President Reagan, President George H.W. Bush, and President Obama have all seen this failure of congress to fix the issue and have passed executive orders to defer deportation orders for limited groups of people.
The present often overshadows and therefore garnishes all attention from the past, keeping us from seeing our reality in the greater context of history. Recent narrative has proclaimed that the spirit of America demands adherence to the law as the primary pillar of our Republic. Although observance of the law is vital to any successful society, obedience without the willingness to identify the limits of law and the courage to secure justice where the law fails, will inevitably perpetuate injustice.
The DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program was created in response to a breakdown of our justice system. In 2012 President Obama followed the precedent set by his predecessors and implemented a temporary protected status for a narrowly defined group of people who were unjustly being punished. Those who apply, pass a background check, meet stringent criteria, and pay the $495 fee are permitted temporary deferment of penalty/deportation for two-years. Every two years they must follow the same process outlined above (including the $495 fee).
The Migration Policy Institute estimates that, “as of 2017 approximately 1.3 million people met all criteria to apply, 408,000 met all criteria except for education, and 120,000 would be eligible upon turning 15 provided they remain in school” (https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states). We must remain mindful that the vast majority of those who qualify for DACA have met “merit based” immigration standards as outlined by President Trump and the Republican party. They have no history of lawlessness, they have met education requirements, and by every measure available they are seeking to contribute to the workforce and improve our country.
But what is the fiscal impact of the DACA eligible population? Are they a net benefit to our national bank account, or a net deficit? How do they contribute socially to our greater culture and national philosophy? Let’s take a look.
ITEP (Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy) studied data from 2015 regarding the impact of those currently enrolled in the DACA program and those who are eligible, but not yet enrolled. They found that those enrolled in DACA and those immediately eligible for the program, though not yet enrolled, contributed an estimated $2 billion per year in state and local taxes (https://itep.org/state-local-tax-contributions-of-young-undocumented-immigrants/). Keep in mind, of the roughly 1.3 million people who are eligible for, or currently enrolled in, DACA, two-thirds are under 24 years old. Depending on upcoming legislation, DACA recipients will continue to increase their education and reach an even greater earning potential. These students were educated through public funding and are now repaying society through their taxes and presence in the work force. Any suggestion to limit or remove their protection will equate to paying into your retirement, then just as it is beginning to mature and provide a positive return, transferring the account to your neighbor. While this would be great for your neighbor (in this case, foreign countries), it would leave you at a net deficit.
Those eligible for DACA contribute immensely in state and local taxes – but they contribute so much more than that. The amount of tax dollars received is intimately linked with the amount of income earned. With the implementation of DACA, we see a significant increase in the earnings of this demographic. The current buying power of the DACA eligible population dramatically impacts the communities in which these individuals choose to live. Over the next decade we can expect the DACA population to contribute $460 billion to the GDP. Though the moral argument is strong, we must not turn a blind eye to the reality that those who entered the country as children have become a powerhouse for driving our economy.
Once upon a time someone intuitively stated that “adversity breeds character”. Now, imagine that when you were in middle school you were told that you didn’t have the same rights and opportunities as your friends and classmates, that you couldn’t legally get a job or drivers license, that you couldn’t attend college or legally get a Social Security Card, that at any moment you could be arrested and shipped out of the country. Even those currently protected under DACA have lived their lives with this as their reality. Though a protection, DACA has always existed as a flimsy, short term fix. Those brought to this country as children have lived their lives facing some of the most consistent and blatant adversity in the history of this country.
Yet – in the midst of this adversity they have proven to be resilient. Though facing difficulty at every turn, they have pressed on – becoming educated, employed, employers, teachers, doctors, soldiers, parents. While a growing number of young US citizens are neglecting jobs and independence for the opportunity to continue living at home and playing video games – others are pressing in and taking hold of every opportunity available – because they are aware that there is a chance that the door is closing for them, that the opportunities available today very well may not be available tomorrow.
Though this is tragic, it is also illuminating. The DREAMers see life in the United States as a gift. An opportunity on which they hope to capitalize. These people are driven to succeed and encouraged to do so through the ever pressing reality that these opportunities may be temporary. This situation forces them to mature and to work hard, developing a spirit in our communities that has been missing. DREAMers are creating businesses at a higher rate than the native-born. This is indicative of a people with a clear desire to contribute, to improve, and to produce. Many young people in this country today carry a belief that they should be able to do whatever they want and receive high wages, health benefits, and retirement – as though the country owes them the American Dream. And there it is – – – the dichotomy of the American Dream: either it is to do what you want while guaranteed of certain benefits – or it is the opportunity to own your own future at your own expense, including the risks and rewards.
DREAMers remind us of the spirit on which this country was founded. These people carry within themselves the firm understanding that opportunity is a loaded word with unsure results. This is the philosophy that built cities, that revolutionized industry, and that created the United States of America as we know it today. The DACA program isn’t of itself great, but it does enable us to encourage greatness – to facilitate an environment where incredible people who have already contributed greatly to our communities are enabled to continue – to remain as a reminder of what “being American” truly means.
Grace and peace.
Memphis immigration Project exists to engage issues of Immigration from a biblical perspective.