The Cost of Ending DACA


Activists supporting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and other immigration issues gather near Trump Tower in New York, August 2017. (AP/Craig Ruttle)

On Sep. 5, 2017, President Donald Trump upended the lives of 800,000 immigrants with an order to end an Obama-era amnesty program that protected them from deportation. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) provides amnesty to individuals who entered the United States without proper documentation prior to their sixteenth birthday, allowing them to obtain work permits and remain in the country. Many of these immigrants continued blissfully unaware of their undocumented status for years, assimilating fully to their lives in the United States and providing a boon to its economy in the process.

The fear that DACA may result in economic reprisals, a common rationale for opposing the program, is entirely unfounded. A study conducted by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, concluded that the cost of deporting DACA recipients “would be over $60 billion to the federal government along with a $280 billion reduction in economic growth over the next decade.” Deporting DACA recipients would remove productive young people from the labor force, detrimentally impacting U.S. gross domestic product and decreasing government tax revenue. Moreover, the costs of deporting hundreds of thousands of individuals would be substantial while the administrative costs of DACA are minimal, as recipients pay the majority through a $495 application fee. Another study, conducted by the Center for American Progress, a progressive public policy research and advocacy organization, found that “if DACA workers were to lose their work permits and jobs…the cumulative U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP, would be reduced by $433.4 billion over the following 10 years.” These studies utilize different methodologies and make varying assumptions, yet both estimate hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses following the elimination of DACA.

DACA enjoys broad support across the political spectrum, with an overwhelming majority of Americans in favor of the program. According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll, only 15 percent of respondents believe that DACA recipients should be removed from the country. Meanwhile, 84 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of independents, and 69 percent of Republicans believe that that they should be permitted to remain in the country. Many DACA recipients were brought to the United States as infants, making it entirely irrational to send them back to a country they do not remember and whose language they do not know. They bear no fault in the circumstances of their arrival and are American in every sense, except on paper. President Trump himself has voiced his support for allowing DACA recipients to remain in the country and, in his executive order ending DACA, stated that he was only ending the program because he views it as an unconstitutional attempt to circumvent Congress. The executive order contains a six-month delay prior to the cessation of the program in order to grant Congress an opportunity to pass legislation addressing the legal status of DACA recipients.

President Trump’s actions constitute an attempt to placate immigration hardliners, to whom he promised the end of DACA during his presidential campaign. To date, there has been no court ruling regarding the constitutionality of DACA. In fact, a group of over one hundred legal experts across the country recently signed an open letter detailing the constitutionality of the program as a “lawful exercise of prosecutorial discretion.” Moreover, President Trump has demonstrated little affinity for ensuring the constitutionality of executive actions regarding immigration in the past, with multiple versions of his travel ban having been struck down by the courts. Thus, it is unlikely that he is ending the program out of an abundance of caution. Instead, President Trump has elected to harness DACA as leverage for the legislation of hardline immigration policies. On Oct. 8, 2017, the White House laid out its demands for a deal to protect DACA recipients, which included constructing a wall on the southern border as well as denying federal grants to “sanctuary cities.” These demands are nonstarters for congressional Democrats, prompting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to respond with a joint press release stating that the Trump administration “can’t be serious about compromise or helping the Dreamers if they begin with a list that is anathema to the Dreamers, to the immigrant community and to the vast majority of Americans.”  

By rescinding DACA, President Trump has ignored both the moral and economic costs of failing to protect its recipients. Attempts to satisfy his political base should not outweigh the security and stability of hundreds of thousands of people. If President Trump genuinely desires to protect DACA recipients, he should at the very least promote a viable bipartisan agreement that will codify DACA into the rule of law, similar to a previous deal negotiated in September. In this deal, both DACA protections, as well as additional funding for border security, excluding the wall, would be passed by Congress. These provisions would grant DACA recipients some much-needed stability while simultaneously allowing President Trump to claim a legislative victory of his own.

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