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September 1, 2017

Throwing Out Money and Talent: Implications of Repealing DACA

It was a  four day walk, but the young Virginia DREAMers could not be deterred from walking from Charlottesville to the state house grounds in Richmond, Virginia – arriving on Monday, August 28. The purpose of the walk was to raise awareness about the threats to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was implemented in 2012 and allows eligible immigrants who were brought to the country as children to work, obtain a driver’s license and be temporarily protected from deportation. As of March 2017, nearly 800,000 young immigrants had DACA status, including more than 12,000 in Virginia.  

The President has both praised and called into question the program, and has insinuated that he might eliminate it. That contradicts his initial support and puts the fate of nearly a million young immigrants in jeopardy. More recently, the Attorney General of Texas, along with 10 other states, have increased pressure on the president, threatening litigation if he does not end DACA by September 5, 2017 – forcing the Trump administration’s hand in clarifying their position. Meanwhile, the Attorneys General of 20 other states have spoken in defense of the DACA program.

Virginia has a lot to lose if President Trump decides to rescind DACA. Immigrants with DACA status could lose their jobs – or could be deported. This would be a personal tragedy for these young Virginians, their families, and their friends, and it would also also hurt Virginia residents and communities more broadly by limiting the ability of these young adults to work and raise families in the state.

That’s because DACA status has helped these young Virginians work toward reaching their full potential. For those gaining DACA status, employment has been shown to increase from 44 to 91 percent. Median hourly wages go up on average 60 percent and 65 percent of recipients say they pursued educational opportunities that they otherwise would not have had access to. More than half of those currently pursuing additional education seek a bachelor’s degree or higher. Gaining DACA also leads to a marked increase in entrepreneurship. Around 8 percent of DACA recipients over 25 started businesses after receiving status. And perhaps best of all, a whopping 97 percent of DACA recipients are employed or enrolled in school.

There aren’t many policies that can have this type of dramatic impact on beneficiaries. And DACA recipients aren’t the only ones benefiting. Their jobs and incomes add to the revenues at the local, state and the federal levels.


Here in Virginia, young people with DACA status contribute nearly $711 million to Virginia’s economy annually, including nearly $35 million in state and local taxes. If all state residents who were eligible felt secure enough in the status of the program to come forward, that amount would have increased to $50 million in state and local tax revenue annually.  

All told, DACA residents in Virginia pay an effective tax rate of 7.4 percent in state and local taxes, which is higher than the top 1 percent of earners in the state who only pay a rate of 5.1 percent. This group are critical contributors that the Virginia economy can not afford to lose.

Nationally, immigrants with DACA status will contribute more than $460 billion to the U.S. economy over the next decade, which adds billions of dollars to federal programs that help all states. If they were returned to their pre-DACA status and their previous job status and wages, it would cost nearly $25 billion in lost tax revenue for Social Security and Medicare over the next decade. That’s an impact that will hit home and be felt by residents throughout our state.

Aside from the economic argument, there’s the humane aspect to DACA. The majority of DACA recipients have immediate family members that are American citizens and arrived in the U.S. at 6 years old or younger. Many have no memory of their home countries and are not fluent in the native language. Deportation would literally tear families apart from each other and put these young adults in countries that may seem completely alien to them where they have no connections.

Given the devastating impact that ending DACA would have on these young people and their families – and the negative economic impacts that would follow – President Trump should have a clear and easy choice ahead of him to keep DACA in place, and to continue encouraging the integration of young immigrants in this country. The vast majority of Americans, including a significant share of Trump voters, support allowing young immigrants to permanently stay in the country. Still, the future of DACA seems to be at risk at this moment. There is bipartisan support from top congressional lawmakers for the DREAM Act of 2017, recently introduced in the Senate, which would give DACA recipients permanent protected status. But congressional action moves far slower than executive actions these days.  

Here in Virginia, lawmakers should be prepared to protect this young and vulnerable community if DACA is repealed or allowed to expire. Rolling back DACA would hurt our communities, the economy, and the United States’ moral standing in the world as a welcoming and humane nation.


Chad Stewart

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