One year ago today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began implementing a policy that makes our immigration system more representative of our values as a nation. On this day, DHS began accepting requests for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – a policy that provides young people who were brought to the United States as children with temporary protection from deportation if they can demonstrate that they meet several criteria.
By removing the threat of deportation for young people brought to this country as children – known as “DREAMers” – DHS has been able to focus its enforcement efforts on those who endanger our communities rather than students pursuing an education and seeking to better themselves and their communities. As the President stated when the policy was announced, “[t]hey are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.”
Because the Administration acted, hundreds of thousands of ambitious, hardworking young people have been able to emerge from the shadows, no longer living in fear of deportation. As of July 31, over 430,000 young people have received deferred action. These young people are not just numbers, they are aspiring Americans each with a unique story. As the President reminded us last June,
“Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you’ve done everything right your entire life — studied hard, worked hard, maybe even graduated at the top of your class — only to suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country that you know nothing about, with a language that you may not even speak.”
Throughout this year, the President, Vice President, and others Administration officials have had the opportunity to meet DACA recipients, including:
- Alan Aleman who was born in Mexico and brought to the U.S. as a young child. When he heard the news of DACA, he was one of the first to sign-up in Nevada, and upon hearing his request had been approved, he said, “I felt the fear vanish. I felt accepted.” Alan attends the College of Southern Nevada where he is studying to become a doctor and hopes to join the Air Force one day.
- Tolu Olubunmi is originally from Lagos, Nigeria but has lived in the United States since age 14. Throughout her life, Tolu has shown exceptional promise, earning high school honors and graduating at the top of her class from a prestigious university with a chemistry and engineering degree.
- Kevin Lee, featured in this video, is a South Korean immigrant who received deferred action. Kevin is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles and resides in Los Angeles with his family. Kevin joined a meeting in May with the President and Vice President to discuss the importance of passing immigration reform.
- More recently, Secretary Duncan met with DREAMers from the Asian and Pacific Islander community who have received deferred action through DACA in July. These young people are touring around the country to advance the cause of commonsense immigration reform.
- In addition to impacting the lives of DREAMers, DACA has impacted entire families and communities. Diana Colin, who also met with President Obama, is a legal permanent resident, who has a brother that received deferred action as a result of the DACA process. You can learn more about her family’s stories here.
While this policy was an important step DHS made to ensure that they use their immigration enforcement resources most effectively, the President has made clear that an administrative action like this one cannot provide what the DREAMers – and indeed the country – need, which is a permanent solution. DACA is not an immigration benefit, it is an exercise of enforcement authority; it does not provide a permanent legal status and it does not provide a pathway to citizenship. Fourteen months ago when DACA was announced by DHS, President Obama said that the DREAMers deserve better than to have to plan their lives in two-year increments; he was absolutely right.
The Senate has acted by passing a bipartisan immigration reform bill. Now it is time for the House to act. We need a commonsense immigration reform bill that provides a path to earned citizenship – not just for these DREAMers and their family members – but for all of those who seek to get on the right side of the law, pay their taxes and continue contributing to this country.
Moreover, the economic costs of inaction are simply too high to delay. This week, the White House released a report to make the economic case for commonsense immigration reform and highlight the economic benefits of providing a path to earned citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living and working in the U.S. shadow economy.
According to outside estimates, providing earned citizenship for undocumented immigrant workers would increase their wages and, over 10 years, boost U.S. GDP by $1.4 trillion, increase total income for all Americans by $791 billion, generate $184 billion in additional state and federal tax revenue from currently undocumented immigrants, and add about 2 million jobs to the U.S. economy.
Alan, Tolu, and Kevin exemplify the very core of why common-sense immigration reform is so critical. But not just for them – for our families, our communities, and our economy.
Today marks an important milestone, but nobody should mistake an executive action like this one for a solution to our immigration challenges. The most important action will be when Congress sends a comprehensive immigration bill to the President’s desk for his signature. As the President stated at a naturalization ceremony last March, “[T]he time has come for comprehensive, sensible immigration reform. We are making progress, but we’ve got to finish the job.”