Laxmi spends her time in college classes and working in youth services at a nonprofit organization. Those are the things that should be her top priorities. Instead, Laxmi worries constantly about her immigration status and her ability to remain in the United States, the only country she considers her home. Laxmi’s fate, and the fates of nearly 800,000 young adults who were brought to this country as children, are now in the hands of the Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the court will hear oral arguments to determine the future of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), and those under its protection, like Laxmi.
DACA was created, under the Obama Administration, to help young people who were “Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.” Like Laxmi, DACA recipients had grown up in the United States — many with US-citizen family members — attended and graduated from American schools, and see this country as home. But they lacked the immigration status needed to continue their education, obtain a driver’s license, or secure lawful employment.
DACA does not confer the benefits and privileges of having a green card, and it does not create a path to US citizenship. Nevertheless, DACA protects its recipients in life-changing ways. Recipients have safety; they have the ability to function without fear of deportation in their daily lives. They also have access to the workplace. Recipients have used DACA to deepen and expand their education and workforce participation.
DACA encourages recipients to graduate from high school, which is especially important because dropping out closes many educational and professional doors, while a high school diploma keeps them open. As of 2014, approximately 37% of DACA recipients had attended at least some college, and those numbers have undoubtedly risen in the last five years as recipients have continued to rely on DACA to access higher education.
After DACA, 57 percent procured driver’s licenses to drive to work; 59 percent of recipients secured new jobs; 21 percent obtained internships; and 45 percent reported increased wages and earnings. This increase in earnings buoys the American economy: DACA increased our country’s GDP by $3.5 billion. This alone demonstrates that the lives of DACA recipients are deeply intertwined with our society and economy.
The benefits that flow from DACA to individuals and American society are under attack. Motivated by bias against immigrants and people of color, the Trump Administration canceled DACA despite uniform popularity across the political spectrum. This hardline fixation on unraveling and dismantling immigration protections despite their utility is both unwise and unlawful.
DACA termination would be devastating, socially and economically. Deporting young adults who attended our public schools undermines significant taxpayer and community investment in their education and professional development. Social science research confirms that DACA rescission would also cause significant personal harm to a hardworking and high-achieving population that is deeply settled and embedded in American life.
The White House is obsessed with managing and reducing the size of the undocumented population, but it is manufacturing and exacerbating this crisis by needlessly stripping the immigration status of nearly 800,000 more people. At a time when scarce resources should be focused on real and serious problems such as national security, the government will turn its attention to rounding up, apprehending, and deporting young American adults. This harm will reverberate throughout communities and across generations.
Let’s be very clear, immigration status is a critical axis of stratification in our society and is linked to a wide range of inequities, particularly for youth. Undocumented status inhibits meaningful integration. It severely limits access to key institutions, such as schools, jobs, and healthcare. The harm is compounded and transmitted inter-generationally: Having undocumented parents decreases a child’s educational attainment by approximately 1.24 years, compared to those with US citizen parents.
Research confirms that social exclusion based on immigration status becomes particularly acute in adolescence when undocumented youth are prevented from accessing vital institutions, rituals, and identity documents — getting a driver’s license or an internship, attending school trips, or securing financial aid for college. This all happens in the context of intense fear as even a routine traffic stop could place them on the path to deportation.
It is impossible to overstate the impact and importance of the DACA case. On Tuesday, the lives of DACA recipients will be on the line along with the moral character of our nation. This case provides a key opportunity for the court to recognize that the systematic dismantlement of immigration protections is unlawful and rooted in discrimination. It must save all of us and our communities from the impending government-created crisis.
Iván Espinoza-Madrigal is the executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, an organization in Boston that provides free legal support to people of color and immigrants.