DACA Also Works for Children of DACAmented Parents

By Rebecca Ullrich

Angelica Villalobos is like many American moms. She loves her family and their two dogs. She volunteers at her daughters’ school. She works hard to make her community a better place.

But Angelica’s wellbeing, and that of her children, is under threat. Angelica is a Dreamer, meaning she immigrated to the United States as a child. Currently, she has temporary protection against immigration enforcement through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Established in 2012 under President Obama, DACA provisionally removes the possibility of deportation and makes work authorization available to approximately 800,000 immigrant youth and young adults.

DACAmented individuals report that the program enabled them to obtain government identification, open a bank account or credit card, and secure a job with better pay. Those enrolled in postsecondary education—many of whom are also working—said DACA enabled them to access opportunities they otherwise couldn’t have.

Despite its success, DACA is in danger. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, on behalf of Texas and 10 additional states, has petitioned the Administration to end the DACA program by September 5, 2017. If the federal government does not comply, Paxton has threatened to bring the program to court.

If DACA is rescinded, hundreds of thousands of youth and young adults will lose their status in the next several years, putting them at risk for deportation. This threat is concerning because President Trump’s administration has provided contradictory information about DACA’s future since taking office.

DACA’s benefits, and the likely impact of rescinding it, extend far beyond recipients. In a survey, 61 percent of recipients reported that increased wages and better jobs allowed them to help their families financially. DACA recipients are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and even parents like Angelica. The precise number of DACAmented parents is unknown, but previous surveys indicate that 20-25 percent of respondents over age 18 were parents to U.S. citizen children.

It’s too early to examine DACA’s intergenerational effects. But decades of developmental research suggests that the doors opened for recipients could also improve opportunities for future generations. Children markedly benefit from having parents with higher levels of education and better-quality jobs. Better-educated parents have more resources to support their children’s development, which benefits children’s health, academic achievement, educational attainment, and employment in the long run. When parents are facing less stress and are better able to make ends meet, they have more time and energy to devote to their children.

Since 2012, hundreds of thousands of Dreamers have stepped forward in good faith with information about their status in hopes of safety, security, and opportunity. If the Administration breaks this faith by ending DACA, the harm to families will be immense. Living in constant fear of parental deportation is toxic to children’s development. Children who have the traumatic experience of being separated from their parents suffer health, behavioral, and academic challenges and experience greater economic hardships. Ultimately, the effects of ending DACA won’t stop at immigrant families’ doorsteps. The economic and social implications will be felt across the United States.

Last week, members of Congress introduced the Dream Act, which would provide a path forward for Dreamers. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has discussed the importance of supporting Dreamers’ success in the United States. But DACA must be preserved until Congress passes a bill that would provide Angelica, and thousands like her, a pathway to citizenship. The futures of DACA recipients—and their children—depend on it.