DACA: The What and the Why

Today I’ll address the content of DACA and briefly look at different perspectives of why it came to be. My goal is not to convince you of anything, but to put some information out there.

Did you know that between 10 and 22 million undocumented immigrants reside in the U.S.? The numbers startle us.

Millions of immigrants from Canada and Mexico and other countries either overstay their permitted visits or enter the United States without going through a documented process. Some of those immigrants have their minor children with them. If they stay for an extended period, at some point these minor children grow up and, as they deal with the practicalities of life, discover that they are in this country without documentation. Such immigrants are sometimes called Dreamers.

Congress has been notoriously reluctant to deal with immigration policy, so presidents sometimes shape immigration policy through executive order (see my previous post). In 2012, President Obama introduced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to defer deportation of certain undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors who had continuously resided in the country since 2007. DACA recipients cannot get or retain their status if they have been convicted of a felony, a major misdemeanor, or three minor misdemeanors. And this status must be renewed every two years. So, in the unlikely event that a DACA recipient turns to crime, they cannot renew their status.

As a result, 888,765 individuals requested this deferral of deportation and 710,842 were granted DACA status.

DACA provides the opportunity for applicants to continue their education and, in some cases, to work, but it does not provide a path to citizenship, or access to federal programs like SNAP(food stamps), regular Medicaid, or Social Security. So working DACA recipients pay taxes into Social Security and Medicaid—programs they can never access.

Why did President Obama create the DACA program? Some conservatives say, “This is a ploy to win the Latino vote. Undocumented immigrants need to be kicked out. It doesn’t matter how they got here.” Some liberals say, “DACA is an act of compassion extended to those who have grown up here and have little or no connection to their country of citizenship.”

A third possibility that neither side usually mentions: DACA may be purely pragmatic. Our immigration system needs comprehensive reform to deal with the realities of our Southern border and our need for laborers willing to take less desirable positions which are difficult to staff. With 10 to 22 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., many serving in sectors where their labor is needed, how can authorities prioritize whose deportation is the most urgent and whose has a much lower priority? DACA essentially identifies those who would otherwise be good citizens, were they born here. It defers the deportation of those who did not knowingly violate immigration law and who have been screened to ensure they are law-abiding.

A fourth possibility held by cynics holds that DACA accomplishes little in the face of a massive problem. DACA only defers the deportation of between three and seven per cent of all undocumented immigrants.

If you are happy with DACA, the recent Supreme Court decision is a reprieve allowing recipients to reapply for their status for an additional two years. If you disagree with DACA and are eager to see undocumented immigrants deported, there are still between 9.25 and 21.25 million undocumented immigrants that are not protected from deportation. The lower figure is the approximate population of Houston, Chicago and Los Angeles combined–enough to keep ICE busy for a long time.

In the meantime, responsible citizens can demand their senators and representatives enact meaningful immigration reform.

March for DACA and TPS” by vpickering is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (Featured photo above)

2 thoughts on “DACA: The What and the Why

  1. Thank you for writing. I’m not sure I understand everything. Perhaps you can help.
    I am wondering about their “undocumented” status wheb they are given permission to work. If they are undocumented and have this work permission, how can they NOT be documented? If they are receiving Medicaid and Social Security, they must be documented somehow. I don’t think you pay into those programs without being documented. Medicaid is usually for people that can buy their own insurance so it is not a program to receive from because you put into it. To pay I to social security, you usually have a social security number and you pay into it using that number.

    Thank you for your time.


    1. Hi Caryn, Thanks for your question. DACA status is essentially temporary documentation–2 years at a time. If those with DACA status then work, for example, to work their way through college as many do, they pay taxes including social security taxes on the money that they make. They file tax returns. Their taxes pay for services they are ineligible to participate in by paying regular income tax and social security tax.


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