Frontera Fund News

DACA Turns 4: Spotlighting Its Successes and Flaws

Dream Act Now.

This week, we celebrate the four-year anniversary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which was announced by President Obama on June 15, 2012. 

The initiative has changed the lives of 728,285 undocumented immigrants, who are now able to attend college, gain employment, and contribute meaningfully to American society. 

Since the initiation of DACA, 69 percent of beneficiaries have gotten better paying jobs, and their earnings have risen by an average of 45 percent, according to a large-scale survey study published last year. This stimulates the economy and generates more taxes while helping DREAMers build a better future for themselves, pay for their education, and support their families.

According to the study, DACA recipients are working hard: 76 percent are employed, and of those, 45 percent are simultaneously attending school. Another 20 percent are full-time students. Among those in school, 92 percent say they are pursuing educational opportunities that were not available to them prior to DACA.

With their increased earnings and ability in many states to get a driver’s license, many DACA recipients are buying cars. Twenty-one percent of the study’s respondents bought their first car. This benefits the new drivers as well as states, which gain revenue from sales tax, plus title and registration fees. 

That’s crucial to note, because in United States v. Texas, Texas is claiming it would  be harmed by DAPA and DACA-plus due to the cost of issuing driver’s licenses. The state is not taking into account the added revenue new drivers bring. 

“Before DACA, I could not even take the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) because I didn’t have a valid ID. Before DACA, I really couldn’t volunteer anywhere, so I couldn’t get experience. Since I got DACA, the first thing I started doing was volunteering. I was able to get an internship at the first medical school in the country to announce that they are DACA-friendly… DACA definitely has expanded my opportunities.” – Jessica, a DACAmented student who wants to become a pediatrician serving underprivileged areas

Despite many new advantages, DREAMers face numerous barriers, and their opportunities vary widely from state to state, according to a report released last year, “DACA at Year Three: Challenges and Opportunities in Accessing Higher Education and Employment.”

DACA beneficiaries pay in-state tuition in just 21 states. In the majority of states, they must pay out-of-state tuition – which is two, three or even four times higher than in-state – and they can’t receive federal financial aid.

When they try to enter the workforce, DACA recipients often face another hurdle: licenses. 

Today, 30 percent of all jobs require a professional license. These vocations span areas including medicine, law, engineering, cosmetology, and interior design. In some states, these licenses are restricted to citizens and legal permanent residents. That means DACA recipients in these states are barred from working in the positions for which they have been educated.

“I finished my degree fine. The only obstacle that I did have was actually getting a license for it. Even though I have the education and I excelled at it, I never applied to get my license because of my legal status.” – Claudia, a DACAmented Arizona resident who wants to become a physical therapist or massage therapist 

Only a few states, including California, have passed laws lifting barriers to professional licenses for DACA recipients.

Many DACAmented students report that their teachers and counselors are supportive of their educational goals and help them find scholarships for which they are eligible. But many others face staff who lack the knowledge to guide DACAmented students or even discourage them from pursuing higher education.

“They were lost… That’s why a lot of [DACAmented] students don’t go to postsecondary school, ’cause [school personnel] don’t inform them well. They don’t really have a future ’cause they don’t know anything else.” –  Alex, a high school graduate

The Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund Resources page provides numerous articles to help guide DACA recipients. Learn about scholarships, DACA application fee exemptions, in-state tuition in Arizona, driver’s licenses, a unique program in Phoenix to help young immigrants, and much more. 

We will also keep you updated on the latest news about DAPA and expanded DACA in the United States v. Texas case. The justices are expected to announce their decision at the end of June.