During this global pandemic, it’s important for us to protect our essential programs.
One such program is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Currently, 80 Alaskans, and over 800,000 people in the U.S., are DACA recipients.
Let’s unpack what DACA is. DACA is a program that provides undocumented young people work authorization and temporary relief from deportation. DACA is not a path to citizenship in the U.S. DACA is available to young people who have entered the country before the age of 16, resided continuously for at least 5 years, and are in high school or have already graduated. DACA is not available to people convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor, or who pose a threat to safety or security.
Our data support DACA. A full 95% of DACA recipients are in school or employed, fueling our communities’ brain power and economy. DACA recipients work in essential sectors of the economy as our doctors, nurses, teachers, small business owners, chefs, and more. 27,000 DACA recipients are healthcare workers. What would losing these healthcare workers mean for our country’s health during a pandemic? DACA recipients gain greater access to employment that better matches their expertise, receive higher wages, become more civically engaged, feel a great sense of safety and security, and have more positive views about the future. Ending DACA would cost Alaska nearly $8.6 million in annual GDP losses, according to the Center for American Progress. Ending DACA would cost the U.S. $5.7 billion in federal tax revenue and $3.1 billion in state and local tax revenue every year.
Our values support DACA. Can you imagine your childhood friend being forced to leave Alaska to move to a country they have never known? Or your classmate — about to finish their bachelor’s degree — being forced to quit? Or your colleague of seven years being forced to leave your workplace? Or your neighbor’s family torn apart, as DACA-recipient parent is forcibly separated from her U.S.-born children and spouse? Today, at least 80 of our neighbors do not know what their futures will entail.
Our communities support DACA. Three of every four Americans support DACA, according to a recent national tracking poll. Our Senators have pushed for a long-term solution for DACA recipients, with Senator Murkowski stating, “I for one, stand ready to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to provide a legal, certain path forward for the Dreamers.” In a joint letter with Cities for Action, Mayor Berkowitz declared, “DACA recipients have … earned degrees, served in the military, and paid their taxes. They deserve a permanent place in this country they call home.” The president of our university system Jim Johnsen stated that ending DACA “may prevent [DACA recipients] from realizing their full academic and professional potential. That is not only damaging to the lives and ambitions of these students, but is harmful to the long-term health of Alaska’s economy.”
Despite DACA’s merits, DACA recipients are facing real threats. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has closed its offices nationwide until at least May 3, likely longer. Consequently, DACA recipients whose permits are expiring are at-risk of falling out of status, losing their employment and health care, and being put in the pipeline for deportation. What’s more, the Trump administration has attempted to terminate DACA. The Supreme Court is now determining the future of DACA, and are expected to make their ruling soon. In this crisis, we must demand that Trump automatically renew DACA permits for all recipients whose permits are expiring. Additionally, we must demand that Trump withdraw his case to terminate DACA from the Supreme Court. I urge all Alaskans to make our voices heard at https://unitedwedream.org/renewdaca/.
• Sara Buckingham, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She lives in Eagle River.