In October, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy was not legally adopted, leaving the future of more than half a million young people up in the air. In our state, 5,800 young Oklahomans now face the greatest level of uncertainty since the DACA program was created a decade ago.
Oklahomans who are DACA-eligible are vital to our state’s economic health and have become integral to communities statewide. And for many DACA holders who have been raised in our communities since they were children, Oklahoma is the only home they have known. State leaders need to stand alongside our friends and family who have DACA and support Congressional action to provide a pathway to citizenship to Oklahomans with DACA.
An integral part of our economy
Since it was first announced in 2012, the DACA policy has given hope to many young immigrants for a stable future in the country they have made their home. For immigrants who meet certain criteria, the policy provides a renewable two-year deferment from deportation and eligibility for a work permit. This allows recipients to work and invest in their futures here. However, those gains have been thrust into uncertainty due to the recent federal appeals court decision. Yet, it is an undeniable fact that the DACA program has been extraordinarily successful. Not only did it give a sense of security and stability to young immigrants who grew up in the United States, but it also bolstered the economy, giving back more than it costs.
Since the creation of the program, people with DACA have made major contributions to our local, state, and national economies. Nationally, about 95 percent of the DACA-eligible population in the labor force is employed, and DACA households pay $9.4 billion in taxes (federal, state, and local) every year. Additionally, DACA recipients represent a total spending power of $25.3 billion. During the COVID-19 pandemic, data show that more than 3 out of 4 DACA holders were employed in jobs deemed essential by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This included 34,000 health care workers providing patient care and another 11,000 individuals working to keep health care facilities functioning. It included 20,000 educators teaching the next generation of Americans, and 100,000 people working in the food supply chain to deliver food from farms to dinner tables.
In Oklahoma, DACA recipients pay $42.9 million in state and local taxes and nearly all — 97 percent — of DACA-eligible people in Oklahoma are employed. If the program were rescinded, state economies for Oklahoma and around the nation would be disrupted due to the loss of labor, reduced economic vitality, and smaller tax collections. Such a decision would cost Oklahoma $343.6 million in annual gross domestic product (GDP) losses, while the national loss over the next decade would tally $460.3 billion. Across the U.S., about 1,000 jobs would be lost each business day for two years. Such loss to the labor force would be difficult at a time when workforce shortages are already hurting business and industry, while also driving up costs across the country.
An irreplaceable part of our community
Aside from economic considerations, these young people represent family — as children, caretakers, and even parents — within our communities. DACA recipients also include our friends and neighbors in cities and towns statewide. People eligible for DACA have all spent at least 14 years in the United States and laid roots in our community that touch all of us. There are 11,600 Oklahomans who live in households with a DACA holder, and almost 4,000 children have a parent who is eligible for DACA. Losing the program’s protections would expose thousands of Oklahomans to separation from their loved ones and block them from legal employment.
Furthermore, ending DACA will affect entire industries and all of us who depend on them. Students in school districts like Oklahoma City Public Schools would lose teachers at a time our students need them the most. We would lose doctors and medical staff, worsening an existing shortage — which is why organizations like the Oklahoma State Medical Association have come out against ending the program. Ending DACA is not a distant development that will only affect someone else. We are all bound together in a community, and what happens to one has implications for all of us.
This is home
This is not the first attack on DACA that Oklahomans have weathered. Since the creation of the program, the life Oklahoma DACA recipients have created has been called into question and threatened. Yet, what has been lost in these political attacks is that DACA recipients have built their homes in the United States and in Oklahoma. These hard-working individuals have graduated from school, raised families, and pursued their careers in this country. Our country and our communities are made better for it.
Nearly 4 in 5 Americans — regardless of political affiliation — support immigration reform that would create a pathway to citizenship for people with DACA. Oklahoma lawmakers cannot wait any longer to secure a solution to offer permanent status to people who have DACA and thousands of other Dreamers in the country. The growing uncertainty caused by court challenges to the DACA policy have created fear and uncertainty throughout our state. To help calm these fears, Oklahoma lawmakers should exercise their power to address the growing unease. Legislators should pass a resolution that affirms support of DACA-eligible Oklahomans. The contributions made by DACA recipients are staggering. With labor at a critical point for Oklahoma’s economy, we cannot take these economic contributions for granted.
At the federal level, Oklahoma’s Congressional delegates need to pursue bipartisan immigration reform that reflects public sentiment by supporting a pathway to citizenship for people with DACA. Congress should consider these reforms on their own merits without tying them to efforts to restrict immigration through punitive immigration measures and massive — and ineffective — construction projects. This is an issue that needs to be solved now to give clarity and security to the hundreds of thousands of DACA-eligible people, as well as to the families, friends, and neighbors who are affected by their uncertain status.
It is time our lawmakers — and all Oklahomans — stand up and send a resounding message to Washington that they will not stand by silently as the future of DACA holders in Oklahomans is threatened.