Dreamers Can’t Wait

By Duy Pham and Wendy Cervantes

Each day Congress fails to pass the Dream Act, over 100 immigrant youth lose their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections. Despite some congressional leaders insisting a “DACA fix” is not necessary until March of 2018, DACA recipients such as Osman Enriquez—a Guatemalan immigrant and father to a one-year-old U.S. citizen—have not only lost their work permits and drivers licenses, but also remain at risk of being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. As more and more young people lose these protections, we lose societal gains in poverty reduction through improved economic mobility, increased educational attainment, and enhanced overall health and wellbeing within immigrant communities. The Dream Act is a permanent solution to mitigate the disastrous effects of the Trump Administration’s decision to rescind the program, and it is critical that the bill pass before Congress goes home on December 22.

Improved economic mobility

Nearly one-third of immediately eligible DACA recipients lived in families with incomes below the federal poverty line. Obtaining work authorization through DACA has boosted recipients’ incomes by 69 percent on average, allowing young immigrants to better provide for their families and climb out of poverty. Through DACA they have been able to secure higher-skilled and higher-paying jobs, filling critical roles as teachers, health care workers, engineers, and business owners. However, since President Trump decided on September 5 to end DACA, immigrant youth like Brittany Aguilera have had to stop working due to complications with renewing her application before the unrealistic October 5 deadline. The Dream Act would solidify the gains made through DACA and allow many more young immigrants and their families to succeed financially and help boost our economy.  

Increased educational attainment

DACA led to significantly increased educational attainment among immigrant youth. Nearly half of DACA recipients are in school and 94 percent reported in a national survey that DACA allowed them to “pursue educational opportunities they previously could not.” The program encouraged many immigrant youth to graduate from high school, allowed others to enroll in adult education to receive their diplomas, and then opened doors to postsecondary education for Dreamers.  However, without a legislative solution, the uncertainty has already hindered these gains in educational attainment. Many immigrant youth now have to apply to colleges without knowing if they’ll even be able to attend if admitted, and many are not applying in the first place. Dreamers like Claudia Jimenez, who came to the country at the age of 5 and hopes to be the first in her family to go to college, need Congress to pass a Dream Act now so she can plan for her future and pursue her dreams.

Enhanced overall health and wellbeing of immigrant communities

About a quarter of DACA recipients are parents of U.S. citizen children. Thanks to DACA, these parents have had better employment prospects, which have helped them meet their children’s health and nutritional needs. DACA has not only boosted these parents’ incomes but also allowed many to obtain employer-sponsored health care. DACA also reduced stress among immigrant youth, with many reporting the program gave them a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, that sense of security has now been stripped away, and for DACA parents, the stress of what their possible deportation may mean for their children weighs on both them and their children.

The clock is ticking, and Dreamers cannot afford another day of uncertainty. Congress must pass a clean Dream Act—one that includes the full Dreamer population—before members of Congress return home for the holidays on December 22. Through DACA’s success in improved economic mobility, increased educational attainment, and enhanced health outcomes, the program has been an effective anti-poverty tool that must be secured through the Dream Act.