Since 2012, the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative has granted lawful status to live and work in the United States to more than 800,000 undocumented young adults who came to the country as children. The Supreme Court is expected soon to deliver its judgment on a Trump administration’s DACA reversal that would make the hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients vulnerable to deportation.
From the perspective of liberty, the moral stakes are evident. DACA recipients did not have agency in the course of events that brought them to the United States. Many recipients were so young when they arrived in the U.S. that they have no memory of their birth countries. To regard them as transgressors of the law has little merit.
Nor, it should be added, have DACA recipients gone astray as adults – felony and significant misdemeanor convictions are disqualifying. DACA recipients are peaceful, productive members of our society who could be forcibly uprooted from the lives they’ve built in the United States if the Court rules in the administration’s favor.
While the moral argument against reversing DACA is enduring, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic a Supreme Court decision supporting the reversal would be uniquely damaging as it could lead to the withdrawal of thousands of DACA recipients who are working in fields essential to our survival. The liberty to chart a course in the United States benefits not only the DACA recipients, but all of us who exchange with them, directly and indirectly, through the marketplace.
When contemplating the impending Supreme Court decision, think about people such as Hina Naveed. She is a registered nurse in New York City who volunteers on the front lines of the pandemic through New York’s Medical Reserve Corps. She is also a DACA recipient who came to the United States from Pakistan at age 10. According to research from New American Economy, there were over 60,000 DACA-eligible individuals working in health care in 2018. The same study registered 280,000 undocumented health care workers in total, of whom over 50,000 work in coronavirus-ravaged New York and New Jersey. More people like Ms. Naveen, not fewer, would make us better off.
According to a Center for American Progress analysis of American Community Survey microdata, the importance of DACA recipients to our pandemic resilience extends well beyond health care. Steven Camarota, of the Center for Immigration Studies, takes pain to diminish the role DACA recipients are playing in health care in his recent National Review essay, but his argument overlooks the more than 150,000 DACA recipients who are working in other essential fields. For example, more than one in four DACA recipients works in a food-related sector. While doctors and nurses are getting rounds of applause when shifts turn over, the unsung heroes of this crisis are the people who are growing, packing, and delivering food to Americans in lockdown across the country.
Additionally, according to an analysis from the Center for Migration Studies, more than 21,000 DACA recipients work in essential transportation and warehousing and over 13,000 work in building services and waste management.
Whether these workers were born in the U.S. or somewhere else, the goods and services they provide are essential to sustaining us through this crisis.
While this case brings to the fore legitimate questions about executive power, there is no doubt that DACA as a matter of policy enhances our strength in the face of the coronavirus, as well as our standing as a society that values liberty. In the throes of this pandemic, the economic importance of DACA recipients is all the more apparent. DACA gave hundreds of thousands of young adults the legal confidence needed to work for an honest living, i.e., the freedom to choose a field and to trade in-demand goods and services. A Supreme Court ruling against them would extinguish that.
What’s more, many thousands of these young people have chosen to work in fields that are essential to our coronavirus resilience, such as health care and food services. DACA recipients’ liberty is obviously of the utmost importance to the recipients themselves, to their families, to their friends, to their employers, and to their employees, but the coronavirus crisis has highlighted their valuable contributions to our well-being. The continued economic liberty of the DACA recipients would be a benefit to us all.
Jordan McGillis is a policy analyst based in San Francisco.