What’s at stake for skills in the Supreme Court’s DAPA case?

By Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, April 18, 2016

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in one of the most significant immigration cases to come before the court in a generation, Texas v. United States. While much of the attention in the case has focused on the issues at stake in protecting millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation, there are also important implications from a skills perspective.

Below, we explore key facets of the case.

What is the DAPA case about?

The case concerns the Obama administration’s 2014 proposal to expand the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and launch a new Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program.

Both programs would allow eligible undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary protection from deportation and 2-year renewable work permits. DACA is focused on young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, while DAPA focuses on undocumented parents of US citizen children (or lawful permanent resident children).

(An important note: The original DACA program was launched in 2012. It is still in effect and is not being challenged by the present court case. Only the expansion of DACA – which among other changes would remove an age cap and allow more young people to apply – is on hold due to the Supreme Court case. Under the original program, more than 700,000 young people have already been granted DACA status. Read more about their experiences in these prior posts from NSC’s Skills Blog.)

Who would be affected by DAPA?

A joint report from the Migration Policy Institute and Urban Institute estimates that approximately 3.6 million adults would be eligible for DAPA. Overall, the report estimates that 10 million people live in households that contain at least one DAPA-eligible adult.

Separately, the Migration Policy Institute has estimated that approximately 290,000 immigrants would be eligible if the expansion of the DACA program were allowed to move forward.

What would DAPA mean for skills?

  • Because DAPA would allow applicants to obtain work permits, it would likely result in some recipients seeking to change occupations or even industries. At present, undocumented workers are disproportionately concentrated in the service and construction sectors of the economy. Because it has been 30 years since a large group of undocumented workers gained work authorization (as part of the 1986 immigration reform legislation), it is difficult to predict exactly what paths newly work-authorized individuals would be likely to pursue in today’s economy.
  • It is also likely that some DAPA recipients would seek to boost their skills within their current occupations. Some small-scale skillbuilding programs have already been piloted using philanthropic funds, often focusing on industries that include many undocumented workers.
  • DAPA recipients would become eligible for federally funded workforce services under Title I of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. This would allow them to receive job-training assistance, such as Individual Training Accounts, provided they met standard eligibility criteria and funds were available. (Read our Q&A about Deferred Action and WIOA.)
  • Neither DACA nor DAPA recipients would be eligible for federal financial aid if they chose to pursue higher education. However, many states have established so-called tuition equity laws (also nicknamed “state-level DREAM Acts”). These laws allow certain undocumented immigrants who have graduated from high school in that state to pay in-state tuition rates at state universities, making college more affordable. It is likely that some percentage of expanded-DACA recipients would take advantage of this opportunity if the expansion moves forward. In contrast, DAPA recipients would be less likely to do so, given that most have not graduated from a US high school and thus would not meet the requirements of tuition equity laws.
  • Finally, the expansion of the DACA program would likely increase demand for adult education services. (Unlike DAPA, the DACA program has an education requirement. Applicants must have high-school diploma or equivalent, or be currently in school.) The primary source of federal funding for adult education is Title II of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Many states and localities also allocate funds from their own budgets to support adult education. Read about how one city dramatically expanded access to adult education when the original DACA program was announced.

What happens next?

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the DAPA case in June 2016. There are a range of potential outcomes, a number of which are laid out toward the end of this article analyzing the case.

But regardless of whether the program is implemented or not, it is important to note that DACA and DAPA are merely temporary programs that cannot grant any individual the right to stay permanently in the United States. Only Congress can do that. The most recent attempt to tackle undocumented immigration in Congress was the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill, which passed the US Senate with a two-thirds majority but stalled in the House. Since then, no major immigration legislation has moved forward in Congress.