In June 2012, the Obama Administration created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy. The goal was to provide prosecutorial discretion to governmental agencies who had access to limited resources. That policy was rescinded by the Trump Administration in 2017, which asked Congress to then revisit legal options, not discretionary options, that address this immigration issue.
People who fell under DACA are children who were brought to the United States as children illegally by their parents or guardians. The average age of a child brought illegally to the US is 6, though teens were covered by this policy.
The Dream Act is legislation that would make many of the concepts found in DACA become laws in the United States. As with any other law, there are several pros and cons which must be considered before adopting the Dream Act as official legislation.
List of the Pros of the Dream Act
1. It provides a possible path for citizenship.
Many of those who were covered by DACA have been in the United States for more than a decade. Some have been here almost their entire lives. The US is the only country that they know. It is their home. With the Dream Act, it would open the door to a path toward possible legalized citizenship, even if their current immigration status is technically illegal. That would allow these people to stay in this country instead of being forced to return to one they don’t even remember.
2. It supports the US military.
There are an estimated 1,000 individuals who are currently serving in the US military who were covered by DACA. Although that number is small, the individuals involved are integral members of their units, which would be disrupted if they were forced to be deported. The Dream Act supports the US military because it eliminates the threat of removing soldiers who are faithfully serving the only country they have ever loved.
3. It provides economic certainties.
Instead of creating black markets of employment where cash is paid “under the table” to people who have an illegal immigration status, DACA promoted a safe alternative where people could work without concern, pay taxes, and establish an economic nexus within their community. DACA was a temporary solution that provided this benefit. The Dream Act would be a permanent solution. People affected by this legislation would no longer be held back from their full potential.
4. It would allow law enforcement officials to focus on bigger problems.
Being an illegal immigrant in the US comes with the threat of deportation. There’s no getting around that fact. To qualify for DACA, however, a dreamer had to pass a background check and have no active criminal record. Directing law enforcement resources to these 800,000 people for deportation is a waste of funding, considering the US experiences an average of 10,000 homicides per year. The Dream Act would allow all law enforcement agencies to focus on bigger community issues than the legal status of a dreamer.
5. It would become a recruiting tool for federal agencies.
At current levels, about 5% of the armed forces in the US are non-citizens or naturalized citizens. Immigrants who join the military or become public-sector employees are less likely to fail their training and more likely to stay in their branch or division for an entire career.
6. It adds diversity.
The benefits of having diversity in the workplace are numerous. Diversity encourages fresh ideas, improves morale, and creates a global impact from local resources. The Dream Act would bring in new perspectives to a variety of employers that could innovate processes, improve revenues, and create numerous beneficial economic impacts.
7. It could stop the decline of immigration in the workforce.
The share of immigrants working legally in the US workforce reached its peak in 1991 and has been declining ever since. Part of that is due to the fact that H-1B temporary visas, limited to 85,000 per year, could not meet employer demands. In the US education system, more than half of engineering doctorates are awarded to immigrants and 41% of physical science PhDs are awarded to immigrants. The Dream Act would open up these opportunities to many more people, keeping good talent that was raised in the US in the country.
8. It could increase wages.
The Manhattan Institute notes that when more immigrants are in the US workforce, the wages of native-born citizens will increase. There may be some skills that overlap between immigrant populations and native-born citizens, but in most communities, that effect is negligible. The Dream Act could therefore add a potential $14 billion to the US economy, with nearly $4 billion of that in tax payments.
9. It would be a revenue generator.
The Dream Act doesn’t ignore the fact that the people who qualify are currently “illegal.” Steps toward legalization that have been proposed through this legislation include the payment of a mandatory fine, payment of back taxes that may be owed, citizenship tests, and additional background checks. If the 800,000 people under DACA right now each paid a $2,000 fine to resolve their illegal status and paid their back taxes, several million dollars in additional revenues would be created while the US also gets to benefit from the enhanced GDP of these additional workers.
List of the Cons of the Dream Act
1. Illegal, by definition, means “violating the law.”
People covered by DACA may have been brought here as children, but they are still in the US illegally. There is a legal precedent that parents are responsible for the actions of their children until the age of 18. Whether a child was brought to the US against their will or not is of no legal concern. Minors can be charged with breaking the law, just as adults can be. Providing a path to citizenship to people who violated the law, whether knowingly or unknowingly, lessens the value of citizenship for those who completed the process legally.
2. It would decrease job opportunities.
More people within a community means more competition for available jobs. That benefits employers because they can hire at lower wages due to having multiple legal applicants for an open position. More people for the same positions also means fewer job opportunities become available for those who wish to work. Although the Dream Act would provide a legal status to people who are currently illegal, no consideration is given to the citizen who has always been legal in this area.
3. It would increase resource consumption.
When the Affordable Care Act was passed, giving more people access to medical care, waiting lists for appointments in some regions went beyond 6 months. The same result would likely happen with the Dream Act. More people means more resources are required within each community. Education, child welfare, healthcare, and basic need benefit requirements would all increase, which could put a strain on what is accessible to those in need.
4. It could encourage more illegal border movements.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, passed during the Reagan administration, granted legal status to about 2.7 million undocumented immigrants. When something is given for nothing, it encourages others to follow the same path in an attempt to receive the same thing. Granting amnesty or a path to citizenship through the Dream Act could encourage more illegal border crossings. In an age where terrorism is a constant threat, a border that is open is one that is a potential security risk.
5. It may encourage innovation, but that isn’t a problem-solving guarantee.
When first introduced in the Obama Administration, the Dream Act would have required an applicant to complete an Associate’s Degree to qualify or to complete two years of college courses. “Some” college is not the same door opener as a college degree happens to be. That means the Dream Act isn’t going to create more qualified candidates, reinforcing the lack of skilled labor that currently exists in the United States.
6. It would change the political structure of the United States.
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2014, 50% of Latino voters feel like the Democratic party has more concern for them. Just 10% say that the Republican party has more concern for them. Historically, PRC has found that the lowest level of support in this category occurred in 2004 for Democrats, with just 43% of Latino voters feeling like the DNC cares for them. The highest percentage the GOP has ever achieved was in 2011, at just 12%. By allowing a path to citizenship, there is a good chance that millions of votes could be generated for Democrats, changing the structure of politics in the US.
The pros and cons of the Dream Act suggest that providing a path to legalization could be beneficial to many communities. There will be challenges to face as well, but if there is one thing that the US does well, it is the ability to overcome difficult circumstances so that good things can happen.