WASHINGTON, DC – On the ninth anniversary of the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program, a new report from FWD.us, Pathways to Citizenship, makes clear that only Congress’ passage of a pathway to citizenship can provide hundreds of thousands of young people the opportunity to live and contribute fully to the country they know as home. The report also provides the most recent estimates of the undocumented population in the United States, offering population, workforce, and economic estimates at national, state, and congressional district levels – and making clear the extraordinary contributions that undocumented immigrants make to our country and our economy each day.
On June 15, 2012, then-President Barack Obama announced the creation of the DACA program, which has since provided nearly 800,000 young people who came to the U.S. as children with work authorization and protections from deportation. FWD.us estimates that, on average, DACA recipients came to the U.S. at the age of 7, with most living here for more than 15 years. More than 110,000 DACA recipients are spouses of U.S. citizens, and DACA recipients are also parents to more than 200,000 U.S.-citizen children. While DACA has been a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of young people, without the protections that only a pathway to citizenship can provide, DACA recipients continue to face many barriers – and millions of American families live under threat of being separated. We must also be conscious of the hundreds of thousands of families that would be ripped apart if the DACA program did not exist today.
“The new data in our report makes clear that the right step for DACA recipients and our economy is to provide legal certainty to DACA recipients and all undocumented individuals, millions of whom have risked their own lives and made incredible sacrifices each day as essential workers, helping to keep all Americans safe and healthy,” said Dr. Phillip Connor, Senior Demographer at FWD.us. “It is well past time for Congress to grant them a pathway to citizenship.”
The data highlight some of the many contributions made by DACA recipients, including their role as essential frontline workers helping to keep all Americans healthy and safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, fully 60% of DACA recipients – more than 400,000 individuals – are serving as essential workers. In total, more than 5.2 million undocumented essential workers have served on the frontlines in food production and safety, sanitation and maintenance, medical research, and in other vital roles. The Citizenship for Essential Workers Act, if enacted by Congress, could offer all of these essential workers a chance to earn citizenship – recognizing their vital contributions and ensuring that they and their families can live in the safety that they have helped provide to millions of Americans.
Not only would citizenship provide DACA recipients and undocumented individuals the ability to live in freedom and safety, but granting citizenship would add billions of dollars to the U.S. economy. According to FWD.us estimates, DACA recipients would be able to contribute an additional $14 billion to the U.S. economy each year if they were granted U.S. citizenship, and the U.S. economy more broadly could grow by an additional $149 billion if all undocumented immigrants in the U.S. were granted citizenship. At the same time, granting U.S. citizenship to all undocumented immigrants could increase their combined federal, state, and local tax contributions by an additional $39 billion beyond the billions they already pay each year.
These economic gains are due in part to the fact that undocumented immigrants make up significant shares of critical occupations nationwide, including crucial jobs in farming (34%), construction (13%), building grounds and maintenance (13%), food preparation and services (7%), and manufacturing and production (7%), according to FWD.us analysis. America’s workforce has relied on undocumented workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and will rely on undocumented immigrants again throughout the COVID-19 recovery.