ImmigrationImproving the legal status of undocumented immigrants beneficial to U.S.: Expert

Published 22 May 2015

In 2012 the administration announced two executive orders — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) — aiming to facilitate the legalization of status of certain groups of undocumented immigrants. An immigration scholar believes that if Obama’s proposed expansion of DACA and the creation of DAPA survive current legal challenges, they could form the foundation for permanent immigration reform. She also says that decades of research show that easing consequences for people in the United States illegally will not encourage more people to come here illegally. Contrary to public opinion, welfare levels and benefits in the United States do not affect migration flows, which are more influenced by economic conditions in the United States and the migrants’ home countries.

Immigration is a hot topic again, as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recently announced she would support President Barack Obama’s efforts to extend the work permits of young undocumented immigrants and protect their parents from deportation.

Those administration efforts are being challenged in Congress and the courts, but still could make a lasting difference for immigrants, says Helen Marrow, an assistant professor of sociology in Tufts University’s School of Arts and Sciences who studies the issue.

Announced in 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program allowed some undocumented immigrant youth to receive renewable two-year work permits and exemption from deportation — provided they had entered the country before their 16th birthday and prior to June 2007 and were enrolled in school or had earned at least a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Just this past November, the administration proposed an expansion of DACA that would extend employment authorization to three years from two years. The expansion would include individuals who have lived in the United States continuously since at least 1 January 2010, and people of any age would be able to apply.

The administration also issued an executive order that created the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program, a mechanism to give work permits and protection from deportation to the undocumented parents of children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

Originally set to go into effect this February, both DACA and DAPA have been suspended by a federal court order. The administration is appealing. Taken together, DACA and DAPA could affect up to 4.4 million people, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

DACA has been a very quick, policy-driven infusion of rights that is having enormous positive consequences in the lives of these undocumented children,” says Marrow. It will help them become socially upwardly mobile, which will have “a constructive ripple effect for their families and communities.”

A Tufts University release reports that as many as 1.9 million undocumented young people were immediately eligible for the DACA program when it began in 2012. Through March 2014, about 643,000 applications to the program have been approved, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security.