America, Let Dreamers ‘Breathe Free’

On Sept. 5, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a statement rescinding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program created by the Obama administration in June 2012 to address the large number of undocumented immigrants who have grown up in the United States. The contribution of DACA recipients to the U.S. economy significantly improves lives, advances the work of various American industries and institutions, and secures America’s economic future. Ensuring protections remain with the goal of a long-term solution is within the moral interests of our nation.

DACA gave undocumented immigrants who came to the United States prior to the age of 16 and lived in the U.S. since June 2007 temporary protection from deportation and work permits if they self-reported and provided detailed information about their lives, including their biometric data, address, employer and school. DACA recipients apply to temporarily defer deportation in order to legally reside in the U.S. for two years. After those two years, they can apply for renewal. Numerous studies have shown that those who’ve received DACA have improved their lives while making a significant contribution to the American economy.

As reported by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, nearly 800,000 immigrants have been approved for DACA status since 2012. More than 91 percent of those recipients are currently employed and contribute to the American economy in various sectors, including education, health, nonprofit services, retail and business. Sixty-three percent of DACA recipients advanced to higher paying jobs, and 49 percent switched to jobs that better fit their skill sets and education levels after receiving their work permits. The average hourly wages of DACA recipients increased by 42 percent since receiving DACA, rising from $9.83 per hour to $13.96 per hour. Many reported that they became more financially independent and helped relieve their families’ financial burden. Furthermore, DACA recipients pay income taxes, social security taxes, income tax and Medicare/Medicaid taxes contributing to the federal economy and some states’ revenue.  

Along with all the good that DACA has done for its recipients, rescinding the program will have detrimental impacts on state economies and the federal economy. Removing DACA recipients from the workforce will cost $460.3 billion in GDP loss over a decade. Additionally, it will result in the removal of 685,000 workers from the U.S. economy. States like Georgia, Arizona, California and Texas will suffer a combined loss of $19.5 billion in annual GDP. As a result, employers will suffer massive costs of nearly $2 billion in the next two years. These worker shortages will make it difficult for American companies to compete in business globally. It is simply not in the best interests of Americans and American companies across industries to remove such a large workforce essential to the function and future of the U.S. economy.

Rescinding DACA is also an attack on American values. Our core values — liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness — are what make the U.S. strong. Time and time again, America, a country of immigrants, has proven itself to be great because it does not turn away from those in need; America lends a helping hand to those who are willing to work hard and contribute to society. Engraved on the Statue of Liberty are poet Emma Lazarus’ words, “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

Today, DACA recipients cannot be turned away.

If hardworking DACA recipients do not get their applications renewed, they risk being deported to a country they know very little about; the U.S. is, oftentimes, the only home they have known. These are our friends, employers, colleagues, classmates and family members who came to this country as children without a say in the matter. DACA recipients are just as American as native-born Americans, save for their lack of papers denoting their legal status. They are hard workers who dream of becoming citizens under the law. It is against our values to separate children from their parents, spouses from each other and deny individuals the potential to thrive. Furthermore, rescinding DACA sets a dangerous precedent for similarly situated programs such as temporary protected status. As a nation that touts human rights across the world, this rescission sends a message that we do not respect life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness.

Emory University School of Law’s Immigration Law Practice Society is disappointed in the Trump administration’s decision to rescind the DACA program. We call on everyone in the Emory community to come together and offer their support for those impacted in this time of uncertainty.

The loss of many of our brothers and sisters across the nation will be irreparable without congressional intervention. This is a moment of moral urgency that requires a moral response from every privileged member of the American community. Rescinding DACA will make recipients some of the most vulnerable in our society. It is within our nation’s economic and moral interests to ensure protections remain.

This op-ed is written on behalf of the Immigration Law Practice Society. 
Sai Santosh Kumar Kolluru is a third-year student in the Emory University School of Law, and President of the Immigration Law Practice Society.