Immigrant Dreamers play crucial role in economy

By Michael Richardson, November 17, 2017

When the Trump administration announced in September 2017 that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was ending, it sent a substantial jolt across the U.S. labor market. Surveys show that the overwhelming majority of DACA recipients are employed, and many play a key role in filling middle skill positions in the American economy.  Estimates suggest that ending DACA will cause a loss of $460 billion to the national GDP over the next decade.

Since its inception in 2012, the DACA program has provided nearly 800,000 young immigrants with temporary protection from deportation and 2-year renewable work permits. To obtain DACA, individuals had to meet a range of requirements, including having a high-school diploma or equivalent, or being enrolled in school.

Many DACA recipients have gone beyond these baseline educational requirements to earn middle-skill credentials. (NSC highlighted the important role of Dreamers in meeting the demand for middle-skill workers in a recent fact sheet on the topic.)

Spotlight: One Dreamer’s Story

One such individual is Ivan (pictured above), who was born in Quito, Ecuador. His parents decided early on in his life that they wanted to pursue better opportunities to provide for their family and decided to journey to the United States.  When Ivan was eleven years old he joined his mother and father in New York – his parents had moved earlier to get things settled – to begin his new life.   

Ivan attended school for a time, but left before graduation and began looking for a stable job and income. Without having authorization to work, he was only able to find odd jobs in restaurants, welding and construction. He earned very low wages, sometimes even below minimum wage. Ivan thought often about pursuing his education and even going to college, but because of his immigration status, he couldn’t apply for loans or scholarships, and wasn’t able to afford tuition on his own.  This left him discouraged and unsure about his future.

Once DACA was introduced, Ivan’s life dramatically changed for the better and he immediately began to think about the possibilities of furthering his education and a stable career. While working on his high school equivalency diploma, he heard about DACA on the news and after speaking with his professor, he saw this as an opportune time to apply and soon received DACA status. Through his odd jobs, he had developed a passion for construction work, and dreamed of someday owning a construction and home design company.  He decided that the best way to achieving his dream was to finish his high school equivalency diploma and pursue a postsecondary degree.

After finishing his secondary diploma, Ivan decided to attend La Guardia Community College in New York, where he is now working to obtain an associate of arts degree in social science and humanities. Upon graduating, he plans to transfer to the Fashion Institute of Technology for a degree in interior design and will continue to pursue his dream of owning his own company.  Because of DACA and the opportunities it allowed him in furthering his education, Ivan has been confident about what’s in store for his career. 

Now that the DACA program is ending, Ivan is not sure of what the future holds. He knows that without DACA, his work permit will eventually expire and that this will have a tremendously negative impact on his life and his education and career goals.

Ivan’s investment in pursuing his education and preparing for a career has been substantial. In a recent interview, he spoke about his own and other immigrants’ commitment to the United States, saying: “We are paying taxes and adding to this country.  We are just trying to work and be a part of this society.”

What’s Next for Dreamers Like Ivan?

As more and more young people begin to lose their DACA status, pressure is growing for Congressional action. Estimates suggest that approximately 120 individuals a day are losing status, with that number expected to increase to more than 900 beginning in March 2018.

Several bills have been introduced that would provide a path to citizenship for DACA recipients. Foremost among them is the bipartisan DREAM Act of 2017, introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL). As NSC noted when the bill was introduced last July, the bill reflects current labor-market demand by including a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers like Ivan who earn middle-skill credentials.

Congress should act quickly to address Dreamers’ situation by passing legislation that provides a pathway to citizenship that is inclusive of middle-skill credentials. Enacting the DREAM Act will not only ensure that hundreds of thousands of young people are able to contribute to their highest and best abilities, but also that American employers can continue to rely on the talented and dedicated workers who are already playing much needed roles in their companies.