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UTSA study: DACA protection leads to sizeable economic gains

UTSA study: DACA protection leads to sizeable economic gains

OCTOBER 1, 2021 — A new study by a researcher at The University of Texas at San Antonio shows the risks of allowing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to expire.

The DACA program, an immigration protection program established in 2012 through an executive order by President Barack Obama, offers Dreamers—the informal term for young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children—an opportunity to pursue their educational and career goals and contribute to the American economy. By 2020, more than 800,000 DACA-qualified Dreamers had applied for DACA and had been approved.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Richard Jones, a professor in the UTSA College of Liberal and Fine Arts’ Department of Political Science and Geography, followed the economic gains of over a quarter of a million immigrants, including DACA beneficiaries versus Dreamers—immigrants who did not qualify for the DACA program. Jones tracked the two groups along several measures, such as income, professional employment and four-year degree completion.

Jones’ study was published in the September 2021 edition of Social Science Quarterly.

The quantifiable gains in socioeconomic factors for DACA recipients were two to three times greater than for Dreamers over the same timeframe.

His research showed that immigrants with DACA protection showed sizeable economic gains versus the gains experienced by Dreamers. In all indicators, the quantifiable gains in socioeconomic factors for DACA recipients were between two and three times greater than for Dreamers over the same timeframe.  

According to Jones’ analysis, DACA beneficiaries experienced a substantial increase in college enrollment, an increase in the completion of a four-year degree, more opportunities for entry into professional jobs, and an increase in personal growth  compared to Dreamers. Notably:

  • The number of DACA beneficiaries with a Bachelor of Arts degree tripled from 2012 to 2016, representing half of all DACA recipients with any college education.

  • Professional job attainment for DACA beneficiaries grew by 34% and grew three times as fast compared to Dreamers.

  • The incomes of DACA beneficiaries more than doubled over the four-year span of the research, from $7,627 to $18,229. By 2016, the mean annual income for DACA recipients with a B.A. was $30,179 while Dreamers with the same degree saw a $4,500 decline in their mean annual income.

“In other words, a bachelor’s degree was valuable for DACA beneficiaries but actually detrimental for Dreamers,” Jones said. “This finding is valuable in that it gives us a glimpse of the future of these arrivals if DACA is definitively terminated.”

Currently, DACA protection is at risk due to a lack of comprehensive immigration reform. According to Jones, those that will lose out on DACA protection will be at risk of losing additional social mobility and their positive contribution to the American economy as a consequence.

Jones examined two data sets from the American Community Survey (ACS), an annual census that asks specifically about education, employment, internet access and transportation—characteristics not measured by the 2020 decennial census. The survey measured the change in socioeconomic characteristics of DACA beneficiaries compared to Dreamers.

This DACA analysis illustrates the divergence in the career advancement between DACA recipients and Dreamers. The latter group faces limited career mobility and stagnating income while DACA beneficiaries show significant career progression with attainment of more professional jobs and rising income.

Learn more about the UTSA Dreamers Resource Center.

“It will be a travesty if these benefits are dashed because of continued political polarization that has prevented passage of the Dream Act by Congress, or passage of local and state laws that enable Dreamers and the ‘DACAmented’ to improve their human capital,” Jones added.

UTSA is an urban serving research university that is committed to tackling society’s grand challenges. Its academic and research specialties include health, cybersecurity, fundamental futures and social-economic transformation.

Milady Nazir

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