One Year Later: How Deferred Action Has Changed My Life And Our Country’s Future

(Credit: Alan Diaz/AP)

One year ago Saturday, I was given the opportunity to partake in a presidential executive action called Deferred Action for Childhood Beneficiaries (DACA), which grants a temporary two-year work authorization and halts the deportation proceedings of undocumented immigrants between the ages of 15 to 31. The action allowed me to come out of the shadows to legally work and to contribute to the American economy. In the nearly two months that I have been working at ThinkProgress, I have contributed more than $1,100 to Medicare, Social Security, federal, state, and local taxes.

Undocumented immigrants like me have paid between $120 billion to $240 billion into the Social Security Trust Fund ($12 billion in 2010 alone) and generated more than $12 billion to the Medicare system. Since DACA does not confer legalization, though, it’s possible that I will not see any of my contributions in old age.

DACA, the executive order that I benefited from, is colloquially known as “DREAM Act lite.” It doesn’t provide a pathway to citizenship, but, like the DREAM Act, it allows legal work authorization for young people who completed some college or military service. DACA allows me to earn legal, taxable wages.

Experts have predicted that getting DREAMers working would allow two million young people like me to contribute $148 billion in increased earnings by 2030. My and my fellow DREAMers’ earnings “trigger spending on goods and services” like houses, cars, and electronics that will “ripple throughout the economy creating $181 billion in induced economic impact, 1.4 million new jobs, and $10 billion in increased revenue.” As a result, us DREAMers could generate an economic impact of $329 billion and “increase federal revenues by $1.7 billion over the next ten years.”

I can see these numbers adding up every time I get a paycheck.

Obama’s executive order brought many immigrants out of the shadows, but we still face many barriers. DACA recipients are legal only in narrowest sense of the word. Because Obama’s executive order can be revoked during the next presidential administration, because it does not grant full legal status, and because it is not inclusive of nine million other immigrants, Obama’s order does not mean true equality.

There is still a huge opposition to DACA beneficiaries. House Republicans earlier this month passed an amendment that would make it more difficult for the Department of Homeland Security to halt the deportations of DACA beneficiaries. States like Arizona and Nebraska have already come out against granting drivers’ licenses to DACA recipients, despite the public safety benefits of creating safer drivers by making them take a drivers’ test and buy insurance. Other states have stigmatized undocumented immigrants by passing legislation to issue visibly different drivers’ licenses to denote one’s legal status.

The Senate is now debating a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would provide undocumented people a pathway to citizenship. If passed, it allows a kind of stability never before conferred onto this population– the kind that allowed previous generations to set roots down, flourish, and add to the economy.