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A few weeks ago, a young undocumented immigrant posted a photo on Facebook after filing her taxes that went viral. The young woman, Belen Sisa, is one of 1.3 million young people who are currently eligible for temporary work authorizations and deferred deportation action through DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). President Obama signed the executive that created DACA in 2012. The program has a stringent application process that includes extensive background checks, education and residency requirements.
DACA recipients are young people who were brought to the U.S. as children outside of their control. They grew up in this country and rightly consider it home. Young undocumented immigrants want to give back to the country they grew up in, and DACA has helped them do that. The overwhelming majority of DACA recipients are currently working or in school. A national survey of DACA enrollees in 2016 found that more than 40 percent of respondents secured their first job after enrollment in DACA, and more than 60 percent landed a job with better pay. DACA enrollment also allowed 60 percent of respondents to pursue educational opportunities that were previously unavailable to them.
Increased opportunities for DACA recipients also benefits communities. When given the opportunity to work legally and a reprieve from deportation, DACA recipients are able to work more, earn more wages, and are less likely to be victims of wage theft from unscrupulous employers. This means they are also able to contribute more to state and local tax streams.
As ITEP’s March report demonstrated, undocumented immigrants contribute $11.74 billion annually in state and local taxes. A new ITEP report, State & Local Tax Contributions of Young Undocumented Immigrants, shows that $2 billion is contributed by young undocumented immigrants who are eligible for or receiving DACA.
But despite the demonstrated fiscal and societal benefits of DACA, the actions and words of President Trump and his administration fail to demonstrate clear support for the program. On the campaign trail, President Trump vowed to do away with the program, but after taking office he has said he has a “big heart” so DACA recipients shouldn’t be “very worried” and as recently as last week Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated that immigrants brought to the U.S. as children are “subject to being deported.” On Sunday, Sessions contradicted his original statement claiming the Department of Justice isn’t going to “round up everybody” but rather focus on the “criminal element.” And Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly stated that DACA recipients are not being targeted just days after reports came out that a current DACA recipient, Juan Manuel Montes, who had lived in the U.S. since he was nine years old was deported to Mexico.
DACA recipients are not the only people with something to lose if we fail to maintain DACA protections. The young immigrants eligible for deferred action contribute tax dollars to communities that help pay for schools, public infrastructure, and other services. If the 852,000 young immigrants currently enrolled lost the protections of DACA, it would reduce their state and local tax contributions by nearly $800 million. If we fail to protect this population from deportation, the nation risks forcing them back into the shadows and losing the economic and societal contributions these engaged young people are making in our communities.
Young undocumented immigrants are our classmates, coworkers, neighbors, and much more. They deserve more than empty words from politicians. They deserve the protections our government promised them through DACA. In the words of Juan Escalante, a DACA recipient who shared how and why he and his undocumented parents pay their taxes, “they have to do right by the country that has given their family a better life and opportunities.” We have to do right by them too.