The Supreme Court is set to rule this summer on the legality of the termination of the DACA program, which currently protects about 700,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as youths, by President Trump in 2018.
Dreamers enrolled in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals have been in the national spotlight for years, and the case for letting them stay in the U.S. has clearly resonated with the American people for nearly two decades. During the last major legislative debate, Gallup found that 83 percent of Americans support DACA recipients being offered a pathway to citizenship if they meet certain requirements.
The American people recognize that Dreamers did not knowingly break our immigration law; contribute millions to the U.S. economy; improve public safety by facilitating cooperation with law enforcement; and fill critical needs in our workforce by becoming teachers, nurses, and physicians.
The DACA program — and the Dreamers protected by it — will return to the forefront of American politics later this year given the court’s likely ruling in favor of the Trump administration. While most Americans understand the issue, it’s necessary to update the old arguments to address new elements and re-examine the general conception of who DACA recipients are and what their potential deportation means for the U.S.
Here are three new reasons we need to protect those covered by DACA.
#1: The U.S. health care sector — and patients nationwide — stand to lose
The U.S. business community has been vocal in its support for employees who are DACA recipients. But one specific sector that especially stands to lose is health care, in which a DACA rollback will trigger industry wide layoffs and hold major implications for patients.
In an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court, the Association of American Medical Colleges and 32 other organizations representing medical schools, residency programs, and health care provider institutions argued, “Loss of DACA status for health care trainees and professionals would nullify substantial investments made by schools, other institutions, and recipients to the public’s significant detriment.”
These institutions find there are at least 200 medical students, medical residents, and physicians who need DACA to practice medicine. They calculate that these individuals will each care for an average of 1,500 to 4,600 patients per year, which over the course of their careers would add up to between 1.7 million and 5.1 million U.S. patients. Without DACA, these individuals will likely be ineligible to practice medicine and will serve zero patients.
Of the approximately 40 medical residents with DACA status, including many whose residencies are nearly complete, the brief notes training costs have been estimated at $157,602 per resident, per year. They write that rescinding DACA would “nullify the substantial and long-term investments that DACA recipients, educational institutions, and the public have made in educating and training those recipients to provide needed health care services to the Nation.”
It takes a decade or more to train a new physician, and the time, money, and resources spent on educating these new physicians will be wasted upon their inability to work or deportation. The brief notes, “The number of physicians in the United States has not kept pace with our growing and aging population and a commensurate increase in patients needing care for a variety of chronic health conditions.”
Moreover, these institutions found an estimated 27,000 health care workers and support staff have DACA status, including nurses, dentists, pharmacists, physician assistants, home health aides, technicians, and others.
#2: Deporting Dreamers once meant children; Now, Dreamers are parents and spouses
For years, Dreamers were rightly characterized as “kids.” But the latest government data on DACA recipients shows that narrative is outdated. Now, the average age of DACA recipients is 25 years old. More than 115,000 current DACA recipients are 31 or older — approximately one-fifth of total recipients. In fact, more DACA recipients are over 31 than under 20.
Practically speaking, that means many Dreamers are the parents of U.S. citizen children. A 2019 analysis by the Center for American Progress found that more than 250,000 American children have at least one parent who is a DACA recipient. Therefore, more than a quarter-million American kids could lose their moms or dads (or both) if they were deported.
Not only are the economic impacts of deporting at least one parent dire, it will dramatically impact the well-being and mental health of the children left in the U.S.
A brief submitted to the Supreme Court by the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and 34 other child advocacy organizations, medical professionals, and child development experts notes that ending DACA “has endangered the mental and physical health of hundreds of thousands of children — mostly U.S. citizens — whose parents are DACA recipients.”
They note amici are deeply concerned about “immediate and long-term effects” of ending DACA on that population and that since the announced rescission, “children of DACA recipients live with the fear that their parents will be taken away, and that fear negatively impacts all aspects of their lives, including their health, education, and overall family stability.”
They continue that “these children are endangered not only by the actual detention and deportation of their parents, but also the looming fear of deportation. The imminent threat of losing DACA protection places children at risk of losing parental nurturance, as well losing income, food security, housing, access to health care, educational opportunities, and the sense of safety and security that is the foundation of healthy child development.”
About One-fifth of DACA recipients are married and 12 percent have purchased a home, likely with family. Permanent separation between spouses will trigger obvious emotional challenges, in addition to its implications for family and work. Home ownership is not only a strong signal of individual economic empowerment but helps buoy local tax bases. The likelihood of foreclosure will rise with the deportation of DACA homeowners and/or breadwinners.
#3: The deportation and reintegration of DACA deportees will worsen regional instability
In one amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court in the DACA case, 51 former national security officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations wrote DACA “rescission would have a damaging impact on the stability of our hemisphere.”
About 60,000 DACA recipients came from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The experts explained that these countries “lack the capacity or services to absorb the potential inflow of tens of thousands of young people in need of jobs and schooling and lacking familiarity with the region.” Two other countries in this hemisphere undergoing crisis are Venezuela and Nicaragua, which have a combined 3,500 DACA recipients.
Concerns over regional stability have been raised before, but the exodus from the Northern Triangle in recent years elevates these concerns, adding new weight to the challenges posed by mass reintegration. The implications for regional security and stability are serious. These countries simply cannot handle governing even their current populations as violence rages, economies stagnate, and corruption dominates.
The amici curiae continued that “even Mexico, larger and at least somewhat more prosperous, would have enormous capacity issues were it to receive so many individuals.” Mexico would have by far the largest number of DACA recipients to reintegrate — 530,000, according to the latest data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
A rush of deported young people from the U.S. who, at best, would struggle to recall any memories from their time in their “home” countries will make things even worse for already overburdened governments. The potential lack of any support system from families could exacerbate problems and make deported Dreamers vulnerable to the gangs that govern certain Northern Triangle regions.
The U.S. has tried desperately to deter Central American asylum seekers by essentially turning off access to the border. Deporting thousands upon thousands back to these countries struggling to provide security and employment to their own people would further complicate this effort. It would destabilize a region already drowning in corruption and seeing an exodus north in search of opportunity. The influx of DACA deportees to these countries may increase northbound migratory pressures as sudden competition for jobs ramps up.
DACA recipients have lived in the U.S. for years, studying at American institutions of higher learning and working in an advanced, global economy. To deport them back to regions of sky-high violence and very limited economic activity and opportunity is to doom them to failure.
Finally, it should be noted, as the national security officials’ brief outlines, hundreds of DACA recipients are currently serving in the U.S. armed forces. Their deportation would only serve to hurt U.S. national security and military readiness.
The Supreme Court will likely rule with the administration come this summer. DACA will, at some point, be phased out and the work authorizations for hundreds of thousands will vanish. Congress will once again have the fate of Dreamers in its hands.
It’s been nearly two decades since the introduction of the first Dreamer bill, one decade since a failed Senate vote, eight years since President Obama announced the DACA program, and two years since President Trump tried ending it. Americans are in agreement on the principle that those who came here through no fault of their own are blameless and should be eligible for earned legal status and a pathway to citizenship.
The costs of violating that principle have only grown. The days when we imagined a deported Dreamer losing out on a college degree or entry-level job are gone. Now we must imagine homes being foreclosed on and American citizen children being separated from one parent, or even both. We must imagine doctors and nurses leaving their communities. And we must consider troubled countries in our hemisphere sliding even further into instability.
Evidence overwhelmingly supports congressional action to protect this population to ensure these three harmful consequences of DACA deportation do not become a reality.