How Ending DACA Hurts All Low-Wage Workers

Daniel Costa

A demonstrator leads a chant during a demonstration in response to the Trump Administration's announcement that it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on September 5, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

This arti­cle first appeared on the Work­ing Eco­nom­ics Blog of the Eco­nom­ic Pol­i­cy Institute.

This morn­ing Attor­ney Gen­er­al Jeff Ses­sions announced that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion will wind down,” and in six months, end Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals (DACA), a Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty ini­tia­tive put in place in 2012 that tem­porar­i­ly deferred the depor­ta­tion of approx­i­mate­ly 800,000 young immi­grants who were brought to the Unit­ed States as chil­dren. DACA has been an unqual­i­fied suc­cess and has ben­e­fit­ed not only the DACA recip­i­ents them­selves, but also the coun­try and the economy.

The young immi­grants who met the require­ments and passed the nec­es­sary back­ground checks for DACA were promised by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment that they would not be removed from the Unit­ed States for two years at a time, as long as they kept apply­ing to renew, kept a clean crim­i­nal record, and were either enrolled in school or grad­u­at­ed, or serv­ing in the mil­i­tary or hon­or­ably dis­charged. Because of these require­ments, we know that near­ly all of the recip­i­ents are deeply inte­grat­ed into their local Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties and labor markets.

Along with pro­tec­tion from removal, DACA recip­i­ents are enti­tled to receive an employ­ment autho­riza­tion doc­u­ment (EAD), allow­ing them to be employed in the Unit­ed States legal­ly, along with cer­tain oth­er ben­e­fits. More than 100 legal experts and 20 state attor­neys gen­er­al have recent­ly argued that DACA is a law­ful use of the exec­u­tive branch’s pros­e­cu­to­r­i­al dis­cre­tion, and as I have writ­ten before, the grant­i­ng of an EAD to deferred action recip­i­ents is clear­ly autho­rized by statute. Togeth­er this means that elim­i­nat­ing DACA is entire­ly a polit­i­cal deci­sion and not a legal one. The impact of this polit­i­cal deci­sion is sig­nif­i­cant: 800,000 young immi­grants — many of whom have nev­er known anoth­er coun­try except when they were small chil­dren — will become instant­ly deportable and lose the abil­i­ty to work legal­ly and con­tribute to the Unit­ed States, and will be effec­tive­ly left with­out labor rights and employ­ment law pro­tec­tions in the workplace.

To call this deci­sion trag­ic is an under­state­ment. Not only is it inhu­mane — after Pres­i­dent Trump promised to treat DACA recip­i­ents with heart” — but the evi­dence is clear that DACA has pos­i­tive­ly ben­e­fit­ed the U.S. labor mar­ket. The vast major­i­ty of DACA recip­i­ents are employed, 87 per­cent, and on aver­age DACA recip­i­ents saw their wages increase by 42 per­cent after receiv­ing an EAD. Those gains — and the high­er tax rev­enue to the fed­er­al and state and local gov­ern­ments that have accom­pa­nied it and ben­e­fit­ed pub­lic cof­fers — are now in jeopardy.

Pres­i­dent Trump has also repeat­ed­ly voiced his desire to help improve work­ing con­di­tions for Amer­i­can work­ers, but by end­ing DACA he is harm­ing the U.S. cit­i­zens and law­ful per­ma­nent res­i­dents who are employed along­side DACA recip­i­ents. Once DACA recip­i­ents lose their work autho­riza­tion, they will effec­tive­ly be unable to com­plain when they are paid below the min­i­mum wage, aren’t paid for over­time hours, or when their employ­er sub­jects them to unsafe con­di­tions at the work­place. All immi­grant work­ers who are unau­tho­rized are often too afraid to speak out when employ­ers take advan­tage of them, because they know their boss­es can threat­en them with depor­ta­tion and use their immi­gra­tion sta­tus to retal­i­ate against them. The impact of this is not the­o­ret­i­cal: research has shown that unau­tho­rized immi­grants suf­fer much high­er rates of wage theft than U.S. cit­i­zens. The rea­son­able fear unau­tho­rized work­ers feel keeps them docile and qui­et, which in turn dimin­ish­es the bar­gain­ing pow­er of Amer­i­cans who work along­side unau­tho­rized work­ers. End­ing DACA and forc­ing these young work­ers out of the for­mal, reg­u­lat­ed labor mar­ket, thus mak­ing them eas­i­ly exploitable, will not help Amer­i­can work­ers, it will do the opposite.

End­ing DACA will destroy the edu­ca­tion­al and employ­ment prospects of 800,000 young immi­grants who did noth­ing wrong, while at the same time hurt­ing the wages and labor stan­dards of Amer­i­can work­ers. If Pres­i­dent Trump were seri­ous about improv­ing labor stan­dards for work­ing peo­ple, he would recon­sid­er and reverse his decision.

Daniel Cos­ta has been direc­tor of immi­gra­tion law and pol­i­cy research since 2013, hav­ing joined EPI in 2010 as an immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy ana­lyst. An attor­ney, his cur­rent areas of research include a wide range of labor migra­tion issues, includ­ing the man­age­ment of tem­po­rary for­eign work­er pro­grams, both high- and less-skilled migra­tion, immi­grant work­ers’ rights, and forced migra­tion, includ­ing refugee and asy­lum issues and the glob­al migra­tion crisis.
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