On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions officially announced the Trump administration will rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shields nearly 800,000 young, unauthorized immigrants from deportation. Explaining why the Trump administration is ending the program, Sessions made several dubious claims about DACA, including how it has impacted immigration and the American economy. We fact-checked some of those claims.
DACA recipients are mostly “adult illegal aliens”
“The DACA program was implemented in 2012 and essentially provided a legal status for recipients for a renewable two-year term, worker authorization and other benefits, including participation in the Social Security program, to 800,000 mostly adult illegal aliens.”
The majority of DACA recipients are adults now, but the whole reason they were given DACA status in the first place is because they were brought to the United States as children — on average, arriving at the age of 6. The whole point of DACA and the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (also known as the DREAM Act, which has been introduced several times in Congress but never passed) was that it was a way for immigrant children who were brought to the US by their parents to have a pathway to school and work. DACA was offered to those immigrants precisely because they were young and had the potential to pursue education, get jobs, and become productive members of American society.
When the Obama administration first implemented DACA in 2012, it set a specific age range. In order to apply, immigrants had to arrive in the US before 2007. They needed to have been 15 or younger when they arrived and younger than 31 when DACA was created in June 2012. While DREAMers are often referred to as “kids,” most of them are currently in their 20s, and some are as old as 35. Some now have kids of their own, who are American citizens.
DACA contributed to a “surge of minors” streaming across the border
“The effect of this unilateral executive amnesty, among other things contributed to a surge of minors at the southern border with humanitarian consequences.”
While it’s true there has been a surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the border in recent years, there’s a lot of disagreement on whether it has anything to do with DACA. The program was implemented in 2012, while the border surge started a year earlier, in 2011. One study by San Diego State University researchers in 2015 found the surge had much more to do with increasing violence and worsening economic conditions in Central American countries, which were forcing people to flee.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and San Diego State conducted separate surveys of children crossing the border around this time and found that a very small percentage knew anything about DACA or how it could benefit them. Only one out of 400 refugee children surveyed by the UN had ever heard of it. About 15 children out of the 400 surveyed by San Diego State believed they would be treated differently by US border patrol agents, but they didn’t know the specifics of the DACA program. If children were unable to tell border patrol agents that they would be in danger if they were sent back, they were still vulnerable for deportation.
DACA granted unauthorized immigrants the same benefits as Americans, including Social Security
“… and other benefits, including participation in the Social Security program …”
This statement is true, but it could easily be misinterpreted: No DACA immigrant is yet eligible to draw Social Security benefits.
By saying “other benefits,” Sessions seems to imply that immigrants with DACA protection are getting the same public benefits as ordinary American families. That’s not true. DACA workers are not eligible for Obamacare subsidies, Medicaid, food stamps, or cash assistance. The statement also makes it sound like DACA workers are depleting Social Security funds, when in fact the opposite is happening.
Since the program went into effect in 2012, DACA workers and their employers have contributed billions of dollars to the Social Security system through payroll taxes. That means that ending DACA could cost the federal government $19.9 billion in Social Security revenue over ten years, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. Meanwhile, DACA recipients can’t currently collect Social Security benefits. For one, they have to work (legally) at least 10 years to be eligible for them, and DACA has only been around for five years. Second, all DACA recipients are under 36, so they are nowhere near retirement age. For now, then, DACA workers are giving a needed boost to the Social Security system and helping fund the retirements of millions of Americans.
DREAMers took jobs from “hundreds of thousands of Americans”
“It denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same illegal aliens to take those jobs.”
This is almost certainly false. The economic evidence is very clear that immigration is a huge boon for Americans as a whole. In part that’s because of complementarity: Immigrants don’t take jobs from Americans; they let Americans take higher-skill jobs (ones requiring English language fluency, for instance) and complement their labor. America’s past experience confirms this. When the US ended a guest worker program that let Mexican laborers work on US farms in the early 1960s, wages for US farm workers didn’t rise at all, nor did more Americans get jobs. Companies simply bought more machines to make up for the lost workers.
Ending DACA will be good for immigrants
Ending DACA “will enable our country to more effectively teach new immigrants about our system of government and to assimilate them.”
This assertion has the virtue of being impossible to officially prove wrong. It’s rooted in the theory that anything the government does to regularize unauthorized immigrants, ever, will send a message to all would-be future immigrants (now and forever) that they don’t need to follow the law — so the only way to protect the rule of law is to send the message that the rule of law is respected.
Sessions and other immigration hardliners use the idea of “sending a message” to link the government’s policy at the border to its policies toward unauthorized immigrants who are currently in the US. It’s a clever move politically: the majority of Americans want DACA recipients to stay in the US, but they also want the border secure. If they think that doing the former puts the latter in jeopardy, they’re less likely to push for it.
But this theory isn’t just wrong in the particulars (see Sessions’s earlier claims about the link between DACA and the Central American border crisis of 2014). It’s a total misunderstanding of who, exactly, is in the US and would need to be “assimilated.”
The 11 million unauthorized immigrants currently in the US are, for the most part, a settled population. The average unauthorized immigrant has been in the US for over 10 years; the average DACA recipient has been in the US for 20 (having come at an average age of 6, and being on average 26 years old now).
Ironically, those immigrants settled in the US in large part because the US/Mexico border became more tightly patrolled over the 1990s and 2000s. And because they aren’t able to leave the country and return safely, they are less likely to have gone back to their home countries than legal immigrants are.
The result is that unauthorized immigrants are actually much more settled and rooted in the US than their legal-immigrant counterparts.
Ending DACA doesn’t necessarily change that. Immigrants haven’t yet “self-deported” in any large numbers. But ending DACA does make it harder for the immigrants who are settled here — and their US-born children — to fully integrate. Sessions is using the assimilation of hypothetical future immigrants to deny “assimilation” to the immigrants who are here now.