Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
The rollback of deportation protection for DREAMers—young people who were brought to the country illegally as children—is going to have an impact everywhere.
Updated on September 5 at 12:21 pm.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday the end of an Obama-era program that has allowed almost 800,000 undocumented young people temporary relief from deportation and the ability to work.
“We are people of compassion, and we’re people of law—but there’s nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration law,” Sessions said in a speech that emphasized the argument that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was put in place through executive action in 2012, was an instance of executive overreach. “The nation must set and enforce a limit on how many immigrants we accept each year, and that means all cannot be accepted.”
This decision, which President Donald Trump has reportedly vacillated on for quite some time, puts the DACA recipients in a very precarious situation. By 2019, the young beneficiaries of this program—“DREAMers,”as they’re called after a bipartisan bill from 2001—will lose their protection and be subject to deportation in waves.
Eliminating the very popular program isn’t just morally unconscionable, advocates say, it is likely to have a negative economic effect on each state in the U.S.
Where the DACA-eligible live
Illegal immigration to the country rose after the 1965 immigration overhaul, which diversified the nation’s immigrant population as a whole, but had the unintended consequence of limiting already-established flows of migration from Mexico. In the 1990s, the U.S. beefed up its border and strengthened penalties for immigration offenses. The previously cyclical flows of migration stopped. As Princeton University professor Douglas Massey explains in Foreign Policy: ramping up border security didn’t keep migrants out; it kept them from returning home.
Soon, of course, their families joined them in the U.S—fanning out and building lives in big cities, small towns, and rural areas across the country. The children, who by now have spent a majority of their lives in America, are more akin to second generation immigrants—they’re fluent in English and integrated into American culture in many ways. Many didn’t even know they were undocumented until they were older. “Many, perhaps most, of these young people know no other home,”Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement following today’s announcement. “They’re Americans.”
Tom Wong, a professor at UC San Diego conducted a survey of over 3,000 DACA recipients in August. He found that on average, respondents reported coming to America around the age of six. The findings show that DACA helped these young people come out of the shadows and become a meaningful part of American society: They have been able to work in higher-paying jobs, get driver’s licenses, start businesses, go to college, buy homes, and take care of their children. In other words, they became more self-sufficient, and better positioned to contribute to the economy. “Our findings could not paint a clearer picture: DACA has been unreservedly good for the U.S. economy and for U.S. society more generally,” Wong, along with researchers at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, write about the survey.
So, where do these young people live? The Migration Policy Institute has a handy tool that visualizes DACA-eligible populations for each state—and lets users zoom in on the counties in which this group make up large shares. California is the deepest green, containing around 30 percent of the total U.S. DACA-eligible population. It’s followed by Texas, New York, and Florida.
Where eliminating DACA will cause most harm
In a press call preceding Sessions’ announcement, Department of Homeland Security officials announced that they would wind down the program in “the least disruptive fashion.” The administration will not accept any new applications, which means those who were going to age into the program in 2017 will never see its benefits. Current DACA recipients will lose their right to work and be fair game for removal once their protections expire. That could happen as soon as in the next few months or as late as 2019. Applications or renewals that are already with the DHS will be processed on an “on an individual, case-by-case basis.” (The information on DACA recipients that the federal government currently will not be “proactively” used for immigration enforcement, with few exceptions.)
The Center for American Progress (CAP) recently calculated that more than 30,000 individuals would lose their jobs every month as a result of DACA elimination, and around 700,000 total over the next two years. In a previous analysis, CAP estimated that a protracted blow will come over the next ten years in the form of a $460.3 billion loss to the national GDP. Using CAP’s breakdown of annual GDP loss for each state, CityLab created the following map:
Texas, as it turns out, is likely to be one of the biggest losers with about $6.2 billion at risk annually. Ironically, it is also the state that’s been leading the push for DACA’s demise. California has the most of all to lose: $11.6 billion annually. DACA recipients, of course, are humans beings, and therefore, more than the sum total of their economic and cultural contributions. So for states like Texas, perhaps the deepest loss might actually be losing residents who love it because it is home.
The president, in a tweet, passed on the burden of providing respite for these young people to Congress. Advocates, too, are now calling on lawmakers, specifically the Republicans ones, to pass bipartisan legislation protecting DREAMers, a priority in coming months.
“Do Republicans stand with the young people that are the future of this country?”Ana María Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, asked in a statement. “Or do they stand with a bigoted President trying to reverse all of the progress that we have made?”