Since Election Day, rumors have swirled about whether President Trump will follow through on his vow to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that grants a temporary reprieve to undocumented immigrant youth. Speculation intensified when a draft Executive Order to repeal DACA was leaked from the White House, causing fear in immigrant communities.
The moral case for preserving DACA is clear: immigrant youth protected by this program are Americans in all but paperwork—having been raised and educated here—and our country should protect and welcome them.
But let’s put that aside for now and look also at the economics, which are telling in and of themselves and reveal a great deal about DACA’s opponents. Researchers on both sides of the political spectrum have looked into this issue and they agree: DACA repeal would be a grave economic mistake. The voices trying to make the case for DACA repeal? Sadly, they peddle in hate.
When you look at the data, any potential economic argument to dismantle DACA becomes utterly baseless. Multiple analyses, from different political orientations, have been done of the economic impact of repealing DACA. The Center for American Progress—a liberal-leaning organization—has closely examined the cost of mass deportation policies over the past several years. Using these data and calculating the proportion of the 11 million undocumented people in the United States who have DACA, they conclude that DACA repeal “would wipe away at least $433.4 billion from the U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP, cumulatively over a decade.” This is because the country would lose productive workers—and, particularly among DACA recipients, many soon-to-be professionals—and consumers. The economy would also suffer from lost tax revenue from upwardly-mobile immigrant youth, who are already contributing substantially through sales, property, and income taxes.
Meanwhile, the Cato Institute—a right-wing think tank—conducted a study of its own. The conclusion: repealing DACA and threatening the deportation of the program’s roughly 750,000 beneficiaries would cost the nation more than $60 billion in federal tax revenue and reduce GDP by $280 billion over the next decade.
The estimates differ somewhat—one would never, after all, expect the Left and the Right to agree on everything—but the broad conclusion is clear: people crunching the numbers on both sides of the political spectrum know that repealing DACA would be a disastrous economic decision.
So, why, then, is DACA repeal even on the table?
The answer is that Donald Trump’s campaign platform—which included DACA repeal—was taken not from reputable researchers, but instead from groups that traffic in nativism. And these are the same hateful groups now trying to publicly hold his feet to the fire to follow-through on his campaign promises.
Take the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), the so-called “think tank” whose director has loudly called for DACA repeal. CIS, like advocacy groups NumbersUSA and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) are part of the network of the notorious godfather of anti-immigrant organizing, John Tanton. CIS was created with the explicit purpose of producing research to support anti-immigrant efforts, and they have repeatedly been called out for deeply flawed methodology.
These groups, whose nativism has been echoed by the Jeff Sessions wing of the Republican Party, have tried for years to claim that they are mainstream, but they are not. That’s why the Southern Poverty Law Center has categorized FAIR as a “hate group,” and it’s why even the conservative website RedState has recently called out CIS for promoting the work of white supremacists.
These groups’ politics are odious, but they do have a base, and they are intent on growing it by tapping further into the white supremacists around the country—thus CIS’s outreach to the so-called “Alt-Right.”
With nativist standard-bearers now in control of the White House (Trump and Steve Bannon) and the Department of Justice (Sessions), there is no doubt that these nativist groups will seek to flourish and grow in the next four years.
But that doesn’t mean that anyone outside of their orbit should take their arguments seriously or be confused about their origins. Immigration is a complex issue, and there are lots of thorny policy questions about which honest-minded people across the political spectrum can disagree. But, as a nation, we cannot have a healthy policy debate when the President and his acolytes try to insert nativist pseudo-science into the conversation.
When it comes to the economics of DACA repeal, the data tell a simple story: it’s a very bad idea. And we must all reject the efforts of nativists to tell our country otherwise.
Daniel Altschuler is the Director of Civic Engagement and Research at Make the Road New York. Antonio Alarcón is a Youth Organizer at Make the Road New York and a DACA recipient. Follow them: @MakeTheRoadNY @Altochulo @AntonioAlarconC