245% – that’s how much Francisco López-Flores’s wages increased after he received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). After charting the profound effect DACA had on his own life, Francisco, a UCLA student, started researching the impact DACA had on the wages of his community.
On Friday, Francisco traveled to Washington D.C. to present his findings to lawmakers. FWD.us caught up with him before his presentation to chat about his experience as an undocumented student, the fight for reform, and his investigation into the measurable impact of DACA.
FWD.us: DACA hugely impacted your life. What was your life like before receiving DACA?
López-Flores: I came to the U.S. when I was five years old with my mom and was raised in a single parent household in Riverside, CA. My family has been very much affected by immigration policy over the last twenty years. My mother was deported, but she was luckily able to return. My younger brother was also deported and decided to stay in Mexico, and my youngest brother is a U.S. citizen.
I’m very lucky to have received DACA because I saw the effects almost immediately. With respect to wages, I saw a 245% increase in my wages. Before DACA, a lot of my work was informal and below minimum wage. There’s no protection for undocumented workers. I would work unloading cargo at a warehouse from trailers that came into the ports in LA and Long Beach, I would clean houses – you name it and I’ve done it to try to get by.
FWD.us: Now that you have DACA you’re able to work full time at Santa Monica Hospital as an HR Specialist. What did it feel like to receive your work permit?
López-Flores: I’ve entered the formal labor market. My skillset can finally commensurate with my job type. I feel so lucky to be able to apply for scholarships that I didn’t have access to before without a social security number. I feel like DACA has given me a huge advantage.
FWD.us: You ended up being the first person to research the direct impact of DACA on wages. How did you make that happen?
López-Flores: I study Chicano Studies and Society and Genetics at UCLA. I approached my professor with the data I had about my own wage growth after DACA. My professor really liked the idea of doing more research with a greater sample size. So, for my class project I interviewed six subjects about their wage growth after DACA. Then, we did a survey with over 200 respondents. The data we’re presenting today shows that before DACA, the mean wage for respondents was $7.19 per hour. After DACA, these individuals have a mean wage of $15.29 per hour. That’s a 113% increase in wages!
FWD.us: The increase in wages is enormous – Can you tell us more about what you’re doing with all of this data?
López-Flores: Lawmakers have been really interested in this research because there really isn’t much data about the economic impact of DACA, specifically on wage growth. My professor at UCLA has done previous research on migration and wage growth and helped me to assemble a report that will be presented today. I traveled to D.C. with the North American Integration and Development Center and the César Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies at UCLA to present on the data we’ve compiled and also showcase data on how DACA recipients have benefitted from other kinds of financial inclusion, such as access and use of banking services, credit, loans, and tax filings.
FWD.us: What does President Obama’s executive action on immigration mean for your community and what does 2015 hold for you in the fight for immigration reform?
López-Flores: I’m really excited that these executive orders were done and that 5 million people will be able to benefit, but I think we need to address the 7 million people who were left out. So, I think 2015 is really about framing immigration reform is an economic issue of utmost importance. I want to continue to measure the impact of DACA and of the new programs from set forth by executive action.
Undocumented students really changed the discourse on immigration. We weren’t able to pass the DREAM Act, but we eventually got DACA. I think this project is reframing the issue and showing the impact on the young people who are affected by programs like DACA.