DACA Repeal Would Be Particularly Brutal Now

DACA Repeal Would Be Particularly Brutal Now
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Earlier this month the Supreme Court agreed to allow DACA recipient respondents in Wolf v. Batalla Vidal, one of the cases challenging the rescission of DACA, consolidated into DHS v. Regents of the University of California, to enter information into the formal record. The filing suggests that a ruling in favor of the Trump Administration’s decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, would harm the nation’s ability to respond to the pandemic created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The crux of their argument is that a significant portion of the 649,000 DACA beneficiaries currently work in health services occupations. 

A ruling that would jeopardize their ability to remain in the workforce would weaken our nation’s response to the Novel Coronavirus in the midst of what is perhaps the gravest health crisis this century.

A survey of this group conducted by scholars affiliated with the Center for American Progress (CAP) estimated that about 29,000 DACA recipients work in such health-related occupations as doctors, nurses, clinical technicians, and the like. 

Our own independent research suggests that the true number is most likely even higher than their estimate.

Two years ago we developed our own analysis of the DACA population in order to estimate the economic cost--both to the national economy and the government--of its repeal. The studies from that survey were published by the Cato Institute and the Jack Kemp Foundation. 

Part of our analysis involved estimating the educational attainment of the DACA population, based on the Migration Policy Institute’s (MPI) estimates of the 2014 and 2016 DACA-eligible populations, the Current Population Survey estimates of Hispanic High School drop-out rates, and the National Center for Education Statistics' estimates of post-secondary enrollment of Hispanic High School completers. We also assumed that 45% of all post-secondary DACA students would graduate--roughly equal to the national average. Our simulation estimated that by 2020, there would be about 250,000 DACA-eligibles with college degrees in the US.

We based our estimate on a simulated DACA-eligible population of about 1,250,000 High School graduates by 2020, so our estimate suggests that about 25% of this DACA-eligible population would now have college degrees. This is close to the 2018 Current Population Survey estimate that 25.7% of all Hispanic 25 to 34 year olds with High School degrees have earned Bachelor's degrees or better.

To estimate the occupations of these DACA college graduates we used data obtained from thedream.us, an organization that provides financial assistance to college-enrolled Dreamers. By 2017, just under 3,000 students had received financial assistance from thedream.us. Our data set had 2,560 usable observations from that year, reporting among other things their choice of college major. 2,219 students had declared majors.

Of those students, 22.6% had chosen healthcare-related majors, primarily in Biomedical Sciences, Health Professions and Clinical Sciences, Nursing, pre-Nursing, and pre-Med. If a corresponding 22.6% of our estimated 250,000 DACA-eligible college graduates are currently employed in healthcare occupations, then there are about 56,000 DACA-eligibles who are currently qualified to work in healthcare.

While that number may appear to be dramatically higher than the CAP’s estimate of 29,000 DACA healthcare workers, our two estimates are in fact quite consistent. According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, there were 649,000 active DACA recipients as of December 30, 2019. That is over 20% below the 825,000 individuals who had applied for and been approved for DACA as of April 2019. And it is only about half of our estimated DACA-eligible population of 1,250,000.

Undoubtedly, the Trump Administration's moves to terminate DACA have deterred many previous recipients from renewing their DACA applications and many otherwise DACA-eligible individuals from applying. Indeed, although there were over 73,000 initial DACA applications in 2016, by 2018 that had shrunk to just over 2,000 new applications. 

Thus, the CAP’s estimate of 29,000 DACA recipients in healthcare aligns nicely with our estimate of about 56,000 DACA-eligibles qualified to work in healthcare: about half of our healthcare-trained Dreamers are currently not covered by DACA. Our guess is that those who are employed in large hospitals where documented work status would be important have retained their DACA status. Many of those still employed in smaller clinics and nursing homes, where the paperwork is less attended to, have made the rational decision to avoid DACA status. And some fraction of those potential health care workers are no longer available to help us meet the covid-19 crisis, because of the risks that DACA status under the Trump Administration presents to them.

Our research confirmed our prior beliefs that DACA provides numerous economic benefits to the U.S. economy and that the program’s opponents fail to consider that its abolition will almost assuredly reduce wages and employment opportunities for native Americans. The fact that such a high proportion of DACA recipients are in healthcare-related fields means that the near-term cost of its repeal would potentially be even greater.

Ike Brannon is a senior fellow at the Jack Kemp Foundation and a former senior economist at the U.S. Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget. Kevin McGee is professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. 

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