“No, ma’am, it is only a temporary suspension. You should work on getting your documents ready.” This was the response given by the Mexican Consulate in New York when they received phone calls and visits from concerned immigrants after a Federal judge in Texas blocked Obama’s Extended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) immigration actions.
The Extended DACA and DAPA programs have received a series of blistering attacks by Republican leaders and some media outlets. As a result, 55% of American voters opposed the President’s executive order on immigration and 26 states sued the federal government over Obama’s executive actions.
Some of the opposition comes from concerns that Obama is abusing his executive power, but most is directed against the Extended DACA and DAPA programs because of the purported effects they will have on state economies. As the argument goes, the programs would force states to increase spending in law enforcement, health care and education for the immigrants. Then there’s also the more general charge that by giving a path to citizenship to the select few covered under DACA and DAPA the federal government is giving amnesty to immigrants who are in the country illegally by allowing them to stay and granting them benefits.
Despite the trumped-up rhetoric and suspicion, however, more sober analyses have showed that deporting the 5 million immigrants who could benefit from Extended DACA and DAPA would cost the U.S. government approximately $50.3 billion, about $10,070 to deport each of the 5 million immigrants—likely far greater than the net cost of providing health or education benefits.
Additionally, undocumented immigrants are actually taxpayers. They pay about $15 billion dollars a year into Social Security, often times not receiving any benefits. The amount that they contribute to the U.S.’s rapidly dwindling social society trust would increase the reserve for baby boomers’ retirement, well before these new workers will cash out. Moreover, immigrants covered under the Extended DACA and DAPA programs would not be eligible for health care and other federal public benefits—though by coming out of the shadows they would be paying into the programs. At states’ discretion, though, they would receive some state-determined health benefits and in-state university tuition.
And then there’s the myth that the programs amount to amnesty. In reality DACA and DAPA do not pardon undocumented immigrants or grant them citizenship or permanent residency. They are programs that give eligible immigrants a temporary relief from deportation.
In addition to granting them a temporary reprieve from expensive deportation (expensive for U.S. taxpayers) DACA and DAPA will allow undocumented immigrants to apply for work permits for the period they are granted deferred action. They will also be able to apply for advance parole, which will let them travel to their home countries and come back to the United States—re-establishing the circularity of labor flow that in the past had prevented such a huge influx of undocumented immigrants.
There are, though, some risks and problems inherent to the programs. First of all, as mentioned before, DACA and DAPA are only temporary programs, which means that they could easily change or disappear with the next administration. This is a problem for immigrants who benefit from it, but it is also an issue for the immigration problem as a whole, because it is not an effective, integral solution. Also, there are some risks for immigrants who are eligible. Even though the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will not generally share information with other agencies about DACA and DAPA applicants, they could share that information if the individual has committed criminal offenses, fraud or is a threat to national security. But since this is an executive action, the policy could also change with the next administration, leaving those individuals eligible for deportation later.
Taking into account the risks and problems DACA and DAPA bring for immigrants and the immigration reform movement as a whole, the temporary suspension granted by Judge Hanen, backed by 26 states, on February 16, 2015, might not be the worst thing. This suspension gives Congress a chance to work on the much-needed immigration reform.
In truth, the administration’s use of executive action to push for immigration did more harm than good. It precluded comprehensive immigration reform from Congress and only stoked greater opposition from the Republicans and the public in general.
Ultimately, it should be up to the U.S. Congress to accept the economic and political logic of reform and push back against a skeptical public. Will they?