Ever since President Trump announced the end of DACA last September, the program has become an even more volatile issue for Congress. Implacability on both sides continues, and the only certain outcomes are uncertainty for DACA recipients with an added negative impact for the U.S. economy.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was conceived by the Obama Administration to protect undocumented immigrants from being deported. It allowed immigrants who met certain requirements to achieve temporary legal status and allowed them to legally work. The program was already a contentious political point between the parties, and Trump’s decision to scrap DACA only poured fuel on the fire.
Trump gave Congress six months to find a solution when he chose to make his announcement; DACA doesn’t expire until March 5, 2018. But this was assuming a Congress that’s been deadlocked on immigration for years could come to an agreement in a matter of months. Instead, DACA recipients have become chess pieces in a game of egos between Republicans and Democrats.
On the right, hardliners decry any kind of concession for undocumented people already living in the U.S. as “amnesty,” and call for more restrictions on legal immigration. Contrarily, the left’s own implacable champions of immigration advocacy see any reasonable suggestion to strengthen the border or halt illegal immigration as a cold, heartless assault on defenseless migrant families.
The ugliness reached a zenith late last month when Congressional Democrats essentially forced a government shutdown after failing to come to an agreement with Republicans on the fate of DACA recipients. While the shutdown ultimately ended after Republicans agreed to open the matter for discussion in Congress, it gained Democrats very little politically.
While the Hill remains at an impasse, the majority of Americans are, shockingly, in favor of a compromise.
A Pew Research study from late 2016 found that “when asked about the priorities for policy toward illegal immigration, more Americans say better border security and a path to citizenship should be given equal priority than favor either approach individually.” The study concluded that 29 percent of adults wanted some way for immigrants living here illegally to become citizens if they met certain stipulations, while 24 percent wanted a stronger focus on border security. When asked if both issues needed addressing together, “a 45% plurality does say that both should be given equal priority,” according to the study.
Likewise, a more recent Harvard/Harris poll found the majority of American adults believe the country’s border security is inadequate and that America needs to secure its borders. The same poll found 65 percent of respondents were in favor of a deal in Congress that would give undocumented immigrants brought by their parents work permits and a path to citizenship, while at the same time bolstering security on the southern border.
While public opinion is certainly key to understanding how we might solve the DACA question, the most important factor to consider is the economy.
DACA recipients contribute around $3.4 billion a year to the federal balance sheet, according to a recent study published by the American Action Forum. The AAF also found the DACA population adds $42 billion annually to the U.S. GDP, about $109,00 for an individual worker. In other words, without the people who live and work here under DACA the U.S. would lose anywhere from $7 billion to $21 billion with added 0.4 percent loss to our GDP.
Simply deporting that many people who are already working is both impractical and unreasonable. Why send away that many people who are able and willing to contribute to the economy?
By that same token, using them as bargaining chips to potentially shutdown the government is irresponsible. Both parties have now caused government shutdowns in the last few years. Every time the government shuts down, over 21 million Americans have to go without pay until the parties finally agree on something. Bills go unpaid, loans become overdue, and another significant chunk of American workers suffer while Congress wastes its time grandstanding.
The gridlock over DACA is like a blade being held over the heads of hardworking Americans, and by extent the well being of our economy. Many young people who were brought here as children are ready and willing to work in the US, yet their potential contributions and well-being remain uncertain as they are jerked back and forth by the parties. Likewise, government workers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, face days or weeks without income anytime an issue like DACA shuts the government down. Congress must come to a compromise on DACA, if for no other reason than to set a precedent on how to solve critical issues going forward. The longer it takes the parties to understand this, the more our economy and working Americans, documented or otherwise, will suffer.