Monday, September 11, 2017

DACA's Net Benefits and Why Congress Needs to Save DACA

When it comes to the United States' history on immigration, it is fraught with tension. On the one hand, the United States has been a land of opportunity where an immigrant could become a citizen and make something of their life. On the other hand, there have been times in the United States' history where we see more restrictive immigrations policies, such as immediately after World War One or in the mid-1960s. This tension between lax and restrictive immigration policy plays out with the debate on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). President Obama signed an executive order in 2012 allowing minors who illegally entered the country to receive a two-year period of deferred action on their deportation combined with the ability to be eligible for a work permit. As of this year, 790,000 individuals, more colloquially referred to as Dreamers, are covered under DACA. While DACA provides Dreamers with temporary legal reprieve, it does not provide legal status or amnesty. In either case, last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement that President Trump rescinded Obama's executive order. Trump has allowed for a six-month delay for Congress to work on a legislative version to get passed so the Dreamers can stay in the United States. Was Trump's move a wise decision or not?

Much of Jeff Sessions' remarks last Tuesday on announcing the desistance of DACA had to do with constitutionality, which is highly contested. Article I, Section 8, Clause 4 provides Congress with the power to naturalize citizens. Keep in mind that naturalization is not the same as immigration. But even if this constitutional clause gives Congress the right to control immigration, it is hypocritical that Trump was fine using an executive order to instate his dubious travel ban, but he suddenly has an issue when it comes to DACA. Also, the executive branch has granted "deferrals of removal" or "deferred action" for at least a half century, so it is not as if Obama's actions are unprecedented. If anything would be unprecedented in American history, it would taking a group of people that were raised and rooted in the United States and stripping them of their legal recognition and shoving them into a state of unauthorized immigrant life.

After mentioning constitutionality, Sessions then says how eliminating DACA is important because "enforcing the law saves lives, protects communities and taxpayers, and prevents human suffering. Failure to enforce laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence, and even terrorism." He then proceeds to talk about how it will further economically the lives of millions who are struggling." Let's examine these claims and continue with looking at ramifications of rescinding DACA.

Higher Risk of Crime - Sessions implies that by removing DACA, we will have a lower rate of crime. On the macro level, we have seen a bit of an increase in violent crimes in 2015 and 2016 (FBI Statistics). Nevertheless, there has been a general decline in violent crime since the 1990s. Aside from that, we should ask whether the Dreamers' demographic, young adults who are undocumented workers, are increasing the crime rates. The "crime reduction" argument is the same one used for justifying Trump's border wall, and as I pointed out earlier this year, it does not have merit. As a matter of fact, the Cato Institute found that undocumented workers/illegal immigrants (whichever term you prefer to use) are 1.8 times less likely to commit crimes. Plus, Dreamers have to go through a background check prior to participating in DACA. Only 2,139 Dreamers (or 0.25 percent of the Dreamer population) lost DACA protection because of criminal behavior, which means that Dreamers are even less likely to be convicted of a crime or go to prison (Landgrave and Nowrasteh, 2017).

Prevent Human Suffering - Sessions' comments make even less sense when accounting for the crime rate of the Dreamers' demographic. DACA does come with a human cost, but it comes at a cost for the Dreamers, not native-born citizens. To be eligible under DACA, Dreamers had to register with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). If Congress cannot come up with a bill to replace the executive order, the DHS can take that list, target the Dreamers, deport them, and split up families in the process. These Dreamers have been here, on average, since they were six years old, so deporting them to a country they to a Third World country that they do not really know is a form of human suffering. The only "crime" that the Dreamers committed was accompanying their parents, who entered the country illegally.

Protecting Taxpayers - By claiming that eliminating DACA would protect taxpayers, Sessions implies that immigrants do not pay taxes. The problem with that implication is that it is false. Immigrants, regardless of their legal status, pay taxes. As for being a "drain on society," that is also false: immigrants not only have a fiscal impact that is near net-zero, but also positively contribute to the economy. The Dreamers covered under DACA are no exception. 90 percent of Dreamers are employed, which is a higher labor force participation rate than native-born workers. Also, Dreamers are responsible for $2 billion in tax revenue. Dreamers are more likely to make a net fiscal contribution because they do not qualify for federal means-tested welfare. Plus, Dreamers are better educated than the overall immigration population, which means that they can better contribute to the economy and tax base. How deporting hard-working, tax-paying individuals protects taxpayers is beyond me.

Improve the Economy - Sessions also postulates that ending DACA would improve the economy. When discussing the issue of deportation a couple of years ago, I concluded that deportation would be costly with little to no economic benefit. Limiting the deportation to Dreamers would still be costly.
  • Budgetary Cost of Deporting Dreamers: According to the Brookings Institution, the average cost of deporting an individual from arrest to removal is $12,500. That would mean that it would cost $9.9 billion to deport the Dreamers. The Right-leaning American Action Forum estimates that the costs deporting the undocumented workers covered under DACA could be as high as $21 billion. The libertarian Cato Institute calculates that it would cost $280 billion in reduced growth and $60 billion for the government (also see here). To put this cost into perspective, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) budget for FY2017 was only $5.8 billion, and it's not difficult to realize that this is something the United States government can ill-afford.
  • Economic Cost to Employers: Ending DACA would be the equivalent of 31 regulations, and would end up costing employers $6.3 billion to fire, replace, and train. 
  • Economic Benefit of Immigrants and Dreamers:  The Trump administration is under the impression that less immigrants is better for the country. This was something I explored only last month when asking whether Trump's support for a bill that would cut legal immigration in half would help the nation. Cutting immigration does not increase native-born workers' wages, it does not boost the GDP, and immigrants are less likely to be on welfare. Immigrants in general provide a modest, but net positive gain to the economy. Specific to DACA, ending DACA would lead to an estimated loss of $460 billion in GDP over the next decade, according the Left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress.  The American Action Forum estimates that between now and 2020, it would be a loss of $72 billion and 740,000 workers. 

The economic and moral case to create legislation to keep the Dreamers here in the United States is as overwhelming as it is damning. It is already clear that reducing immigration doesn't do the American people any favors, and given the demographic features of the Dreamers, it becomes all the more perplexing as to why Trump feels the need to go after the Dreamers. At the same time, I understand that DACA was never meant to be a permanent solution since the President can only defer deportation and does not provide a path to citizenship. Even if you want to argue that DACA is "good policy but bad law," the solution has been and continues to be Congress. At this point, it is up to Congress to create legislation to help the Dreamers and preserve the American dream.

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