The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Learning to be Legal: Assessing the Incorporation of Daca Eligible Young Adults

Friday, January 17, 2014: 9:30 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 103B Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Roberto G. Gonzales, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background: On June 15, President Obama announced a change in policy that could provide deferred action to an estimated 1.4 million young people who have lived in the United States since childhood.  The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, while not granting a path to legalization, enables qualified young undocumented immigrants to remain in the country without fear of deportation to apply for work permits. While Congress debates their futures, this policy potentially opens up other opportunities, including furthering education, employment commensurate with their degrees, and access to other government and private sector resources. This program, which began on August 15, 2012, presents an opportunity to study the educational, economic, and social and health impacts of widened access, as well as the particular uncertainties that arise from rights tied to administrative rather than legislative relief.

As of February 13, 2013, 423,634 young people had applied; nearly 200,000 of them had been approved to date. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services data confirms that they are largely of Latin American origin, with the largest shares of applicants coming from the Mexican born. South Korea, and the Philippines.  Half of all applicants come from three states—California, Texas, and New York. These figures generally parallel what we know about the overall undocumented population. On average, these young people come from very low-income backgrounds, posing challenges to their postsecondary educational attainment, employment options, civic engagement, health care access, and general well-being.  

What these young people (and many others like them) might be able to achieve if given a chance to regularize their status, until now, has been largely speculative. However, the implementation of the DACA program provides a unique social experiment.

Methods & Results: This paper will assess the incorporation of DACA applicants over time and answer three key research questions: 1. What are the individual and family-level characteristics of young people who apply for and receive DACA? 2. How does DACA impact educational, employment civic engagement, health, and well-being in the short run, and over time? 3. How do the benefits of DACA vary across different state contexts?

This study draws from a national online survey of DACA eligible young adults, 18-35 (N=3,000).  The survey asks questions about family, community, school, civic engagement, and work. In addition, the survey protocol contains questions used in the Current Population Survey so that DACA applicants can be compared to an artificial cohort of young adults their age.

Conclusions & Implications: The knowledge we gain from these young people’s journeys has important short and long-term benefits. In the short-term, survey findings and their dissemination can contribute to the policy debate around the DREAM Act and legalization generally. In the long run, this research will help to build a body of knowledge that will profoundly deepen our understanding of the relationship between immigration status, opportunity, and quality of life.