Two years after the launch of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the lives of young immigrants in the program have improved. But a lack of support on the state and federal level, along with stalled immigration reform, limits opportunities.
Almost 60 percent of beneficiaries nationwide, commonly known as “Dreamers,” have gotten a new job since receiving DACA. And 45 percent have increased their earnings, according to a study published by the American Immigration Council.
The strongest economic benefits were tied to education, the study found, as deferred-action recipients with bachelor’s degrees were more than 1½ times more likely to get new and better-paying jobs.
Grecia Rivas, 22, came to Tucson from Mexico when she was 3 years old. She knew about her immigration status growing up, but said it didn’t really hit her until her senior year of high school.
Ineligible to qualify for in-state tuition at the University of Arizona or to receive federal financial aid, her dream of going to a four-year college was put on hold.
“They say they want to improve education in Arizona. Well, give us that opportunity. We’ve been here; we’ve graduated with honors — just give us the chance,” said Rivas, who graduated in May from Pima Community College.
Rivas is one of almost 20,000 immigrants who have received deferred action in Arizona. Nationwide, 673,417 people had applied and 553,197 had been approved as of March.
Deferred action gives immigrants who were brought into the country as children — and who meet certain criteria — relief from deportation as well as a work permit renewable after two years. There is a $465 fee for the initial application, as well as for renewal.
The program has allowed young immigrants to more meaningfully participate in their communities and contribute to the U.S. economy, said Roberto Gonzales, an assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and one of the authors of the study.
But while DACA has provided immediate gains among recipients, Gonzales said, they continue to be held back by policies that don’t allow them to achieve any form of upward mobility.
“On one hand, you have this really great program, hundreds of thousands of young people applied, but there’s nothing really beyond that,” Gonzales said.
The researcher cited the lack of federal financial aid, the instability of living in mixed-status families, and the shortage of any workforce-development initiatives.
That is compounded in states like Arizona, where officials have actively sought to deny DACA recipients some of the benefits available in other states, such as driver’s licenses and in-state tuition.
For Rivas, who said she depends on the bus or rides from friends to get around, not having a driver’s license is a problem that goes beyond not being able to legally drive.
“If you need to show an ID, sometimes there are places that don’t accept your work permit as one,” she said.
Rivas has found support as a volunteer with Scholarships A-Z, a group that provides resources and scholarship help to immigrant students. The volunteers share information, organize workshops and lobby for more educational opportunities.
Although leaving for a more accepting state such as California is always a temptation, Rivas said she and her friends are not ready to give up on the place they call home.
“We’ve grown up here, and we want to be able to make a difference here, not run away to other places just because they offer something,” she said.
President Obama recently pledged to address immigration through an executive order, after House Republicans continue to avoid taking up the issue more than a year after the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive reform bill.
But even if reform were around the corner, Rivas said education is the key to a better future for immigrants.
“If you don’t have education, then immigration reform is not going to do much. We all get to be here and have our work permits, but what are we going to do with it?”
Contact reporter Luis F. Carrasco at firstname.lastname@example.org or 807-8029. On Twitter: @lfcarrasco