Amid Legal and Political Uncertainty, DACA Remains
More Important Than Ever
By Tom K. Wong, Sanaa Abrar, Tom Jawetz, Ignacia Rodriguez Kmec, Patrick O'Shea, Greisa Martinez Rosas, and Philip E. Wolgin
Since it was first announced on June 15, 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals(DACA) policy has provided work authorization as well
as temporary relief from deportation to approximately 822,000 undocumented young people across the United States.
From July 16 to August 7, 2018, Tom K. Wong of the University of California, San Diego; United We Dream; the National Immigration Law
Center; and the Center for American Progress fielded a national survey to further analyze the experiences of DACA recipients. The study
includes 1,050 DACA recipients in 41 states as well as the District of Columbia.
This research, as with previous surveys, shows that DACA recipients are making significant contributions to the economy and their
communities. In all, 96 percent of respondents are currently employed or enrolled in school.
However, the data also show how the uncertainty that the Trump administration’s September decision to rescind DACA created is taking a
significant toll on many DACA recipients’ well-being. A majority of respondents reported that they think about being deported at least once a
day. Among parents, 76 percent reported that they think about “being separated from [their] children because of deportation” at least once a
day, and 74 percent think about “not being able to see [their] children grow up because of deportation” at least once a day.
DACA’s impact on employment
Work authorization has been critical in helping DACA recipients participate more fully in the U.S. labor force. The data show that 89 percent of
respondents are currently employed. Among respondents aged 25 and older, the employment rate jumps to 92 percent.
After receiving DACA:
• 54 percent of respondents moved to a job with better pay.
• 46 percent of respondents moved to a job with better working conditions.
• 45 percent of respondents moved to a job that “better fits [their] education and training.”
• 45 percent of respondents moved to a job that “better fits [their] long-term career goals.”
• 47 percent of respondents moved to a job with health insurance or other benefits.
The data also show that 6 percent of respondents started their own businesses after receiving DACA. Among respondents 25 years and older,
this share increases to 8 percent. As the authors have noted in previous surveys, DACA recipients are outpacing the general population in
terms of business creation.
DACA’s impact on earnings
Several years of data, including this 2018 survey, make clear that DACA is having a positive and significant effect on wages. The average hourly
wage of respondents increased by 78 percent since receiving DACA, from $10.32 per hour to $18.42 per hour. Among respondents 25 years
and older, the average hourly wage increased by 97 percent since receiving DACA. These higher wages are not only important for recipients
and their families but also for tax revenues and economic growth at the local, state, and federal levels.
The data also show that respondents’ average annual earnings come out to $35,485, and their median annual earnings total $32,000. Among
respondents 25 years and older, their average and median annual earnings are $42,049 and $38,490, respectively.
These higher wages have resulted in greater financial independence and security for DACA recipients. Seventy-seven percent of respondents
reported that their increased earnings have “helped [them] become financially independent,” and 75 percent reported that their increased
earnings have “helped [their] family financially.” Among respondents currently in school, 77 percent reported that their increased earnings have
helped pay for tuition. Finally, among respondents with children, 48 percent reported that their increased earnings have helped pay for child
DACA’s impact on the economy
The purchasing power of DACA recipients continues to increase. For example, 62 percent of respondents reported purchasing their first car
after receiving DACA. These large purchases matter in terms of state revenue, as most states collect a percentage of the purchase price in
sales tax as well as registration and title fees. The added revenue for states comes in addition to the safety benefits of having more licensed
and insured drivers on the roads.
The data also show that 14 percent of respondents purchased their first home after receiving DACA. Among respondents 25 years and older,
this share increases to 20 percent. In the broader economy, home purchases lead to increased job creation and the infusion of new spending
in local economies.
DACA’s impact on education
Of the 40 percent of respondents who are currently enrolled in school, three-quarters are pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher. When it
comes to educational attainment, 32 percent of respondents reported having a bachelor’s degree or higher. Importantly, among those who are
currently in school, a robust 93 percent said that, because of DACA, “[they] pursued educational opportunities that [they] previously could not.”
The uncertainty and resolve of DACA recipients
The legal and political uncertainty surrounding DACA is weighing heavily on its recipients. For example, 45 percent of respondents reported
that they think about being detained in an immigration detention facility at least once a day; 55 percent reported that they think about being
deported at least once a day; and 64 percent reported that they think about a family member being deported at least once a day.
Among recipients with children, 76 percent reported that they think about “being separated from [their] children because of deportation” at least
once a day, and 74 percent think about “not being able to see [their] children grow up because of deportation” at least once a day.
Despite many respondents’ uncertainty, the data also show tremendous resolve and civic engagement among DACA recipients. For example,
since receiving DACA, 49 percent of respondents reported that they have become more politically active, and 52 percent reported that they have
become more involved in their communities. After their DACA applications were approved, 64 percent reported, “I am no longer afraid of my
immigration status”; another 64 percent reported, “I feel more like I belong in the U.S.”
These findings could not paint a clearer picture: DACA has been unreservedly good for recipients, the U.S. economy, and society at large.
Ending DACA would not only be cruel and counterproductive, but it would also roll back the gains that DACA recipients have made, as many are
hitting their stride in their lives and careers. At a time when DACA is facing its most serious threat ever, understanding the benefits of the
program for recipients, their families, their communities, and the nation as a whole is all the more important.
Tom K. Wong is associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego and a senior fellow at the Center for American
Progress. Sanaa Abrar is advocacy director at United We Dream. Tom Jawetz is vice president for Immigration Policy at the Center for
American Progress. Ignacia Rodriguez Kmec is immigration policy advocate at the National Immigration Law Center. Patrick O’Shea is
research and narrative strategist at the National Immigration Law Center. Greisa Martinez Rosas is deputy executive director at United We
Dream. Philip E. Wolgin is managing director for Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress.
The authors would like to thank all those who took and shared the survey for their time and effort in helping to bring these stories to light.