Diana Wong, a 27-year-old San Francisco resident, came to America with her family when she was 5 years old and has lived here ever since. Wong’s parents were originally from China and later fled to Mexico, where she was born. Wong is undocumented.
On the “DreamSF” Facebook page, there is a profile of Wong that was featured on “World Journal” recently. While growing up, Wong says that “[e]very time I was requested to present my Mexican passport, I was helpless and scared.” She graduated from high school but was unable to go to college due to financial limitations. As an undocumented person, she could apply to college but was not eligible for financial aid. So Wong found herself on the outside looking in as her friends and classmates headed to college and applied for jobs. She felt like a criminal, “despite the fact that he/she is innocent of a crime.”
Wong applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in 2012. After receiving deferred status, she procured a social security number and enrolled in college. Today, she is employed as an outreach coordinator at a nonprofit agency that assists immigrants and low-income families.
It is pretty evident that DACA, implemented by President Barack Obama in 2012, has tremendous assimilative and economic benefits for recipients. Its statement of intent itself should be indicative of that. DACA provides temporary relief from deportation and work authorization for a period of two years for individuals who: came to the United States before reaching age 16; have continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007; were under age 31 as of June 15, 2012; and have graduated from high school or are currently in school.
Tom K. Wong, assistant professor of political science at UC San Diego, conducted a study along with the National Immigration Law Center and the Center for American Progress in June 2015 on whether DACA improved the lives of its recipients. Most significantly, 92 percent “pursued educational opportunities [they] previously could not”; 89 percent got a driver’s license or state ID; 57 percent reported getting jobs that suited their education and training; and 69 percent got a better job with better pay.
What do these percentages really mean for you and me?
According to the Migration Policy Institute, from 2012 to 2016, 741,546 individuals were granted DACA, creating 21,433 average new jobs per year, adding $86 billion to the gross domestic product and, specifically, providing a cumulative income increase of $46 billion for all Americans. So, it’s not just DACA recipients who see their income grow. It’s all of us — you and me, too.
And MPI projects that if the program continues for the next 10 years, there will be an average of 28,814 jobs created per year, increasing the income of all Americans by $124 billion. The Social Security Administration projects that $41 billion will be added as new tax revenue over 10 years and payroll tax revenues will rise by $22.6 billion over five years.
Well, that’s the benefit. But what’s the cost of implementing the program, you ask?
From 2012 to March 2016, there have been 868,615 applications received. We must factor in the costs of administering these applications. There’s also the cost of counseling and advocacy services for applicants, but in a city like San Francisco, much of that is taken on by the thriving service and infrastructure community, partly funded by The City and partly by foundations.
It is clearly evident that the benefits far outweigh the costs. So how would it look if DACA were dissolved, let go, cut, terminated?
For one, Diana Wong, would be dismissed from her job. Her employer has reportedly stated that if DACA were to be rescinded, they don’t know where they will find another person like Wong who speaks English, Cantonese and Spanish and has first-hand knowledge, as well as a deep understanding, of immigrant issues.
In a report by Immigrant Legal Resource Center and Jose Magana-Salgado released Dec. 13, 87 percent of DACA recipients — 645,145 individuals — are employed with businesses. If DACA were to be cut, these individuals, like Diana Wong, would be out of a job. Just the turnover cost for businesses is estimated at $3.4 billion. Social Security and Medicare would see a tax revenue reduction of $24.6 billion, and the GDP would see a drop to the tune of $433.4 billion in a decade.
There’s another cost, infinitely more dear. It’s the emotional, sociological and psychological cost of people among us losing jobs, facing deportation, worrying about what’s around the corner and not having viable options. It’s the cost of folks being put back on the fear wagon.
Diana Wong urges those who are concerned that DACA will be rescinded to hold strong.
“Don’t think of it as a step back, that it means going back to the shadows,” she said. “We’ve come too far and there is no going back. DACA wasn’t given to us without us fighting for it. For those who are younger, someone before you organized, spoke out, and fought for DACA. This is a time again for work to be done as we face this uncertain future.”
America, in my view, consistently ups the fairness quotient with programs and policies that enhance our acclaimed diversity and community. DACA is one of them. It is not a program that exploits. Rather, it enables the well-being of our immigrant communities and our society in general. It is the right program for the right people. We must keep it going.
Jaya Padmanabhan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @jayapadmanabhan. In Brown Type covers immigrant issues in San Francisco.