Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda is an associate professor in the César E. Chávez Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at UCLA. He is an expert on immigration and immigrants in the United States with a focus on labor markets who has conducted research on the economic effects of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and attended rallies protesting the recent announcement from the federal government that the program would end in six months.
In this interview, which has been edited for clarity, he explains how immigration benefits the economy, clarifies misconceptions about DACA and makes the case for comprehensive immigration reform.
An executive order enacted in June 2012 under Barack Obama, DACA granted some people who entered the United States undocumented as children the ability to hold employment and not fear immediate deportation for two-year renewable periods. Los Angeles County is home to half of California’s 260,000 DACA recipients. To be eligible for DACA people had to have come to the United States before 2007, and have been 15 or younger when they arrived and younger than 31 when DACA was created. Additionally to qualify, people had to be in high school or have a diploma (or equivalent) and also had to have a nearly spotless criminal record.
This week President Donald Trump, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) discussed ensuring legal protections for undocumented immigrants who are eligible for DACA as part of a broader immigration agreement.
What is the impact of eliminating DACA?
Over a 40-year period, people eligible for DACA — having gone to school and entered the workforce — will produce $3.6 trillion of economic activity for the United States. This is given their educational structure, where their educational structure will be if we let them complete their education, and the types of jobs they are likely to get and the type of economic activity they’re likely to produce as a result.
If you deport them, not only will you give up this $3.6 trillion that they’ll produce over time but there will be an immediate hit on the economy. You will basically shrink the labor force and therefore shrink the size of the economy. This means the GDP as a whole goes down and if the GDP per capita goes down, we literally become poorer immediately.
In addition to harming the economy by rescinding DACA, we’re bankrupting the soul of the country. Can you imagine the United States turning its back on kids who have grown up in our neighborhoods, in our schools? We’ve already paid for their education. Something like this has never happened in this country.
What misconceptions do people have about DACA and its recipients?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that undocumented people and DACA recipients take away jobs. The vast amount of research shows that immigrants, and particularly the high-skilled DACA recipients, add significantly to the economy, expand the amount of economic activity and expand the total amount of employment. They expand the pie. If you’re baking a pie and adding a greater volume of ingredients, the pie will be bigger. In other words, the economic benefit for society by having these people here is much higher than by taking them out.
What we know about immigrants, particularly unskilled immigrants, is that they complement the skill sets of other workers, and that skilled immigrants allow the United States to expand the industries in which they operate. There is a fundamental misconception that by kicking people out, you are going to create more jobs. You’re not. By kicking people out you’re going to make the economy smaller.
Why haven’t DACA recipients just worked to get legal status in the United States?
The way it works is that, especially if you’re brought here as a kid, there is no pathway. There is no effort you can make to become legal. The American government should create a pathway for that, but if you were brought here as an undocumented kid there is nothing you can do. There is no pathway to citizenship unless your parents become citizens somehow, which is very difficult, or you marry an American citizen. The only way that could happen is they leave the country, grow up and apply.
What causes the United States to have as many undocumented workers as it has?
As a society, we have profited from a broken immigration system for decades and haven’t done anything about it because we’re addicted to using low-wage and “undocumented labor” to fulfil our needs. We’ve known this for years and have refused to change the laws. We could have realized that U.S.-born workers don’t want to work in certain sectors and created a legal system for bringing in people willing to do those jobs. We just don’t have a sufficient number of workers to grow the economy the way we all want to, but we haven’t changed the laws.
Why does the United States need immigration?
The United States still needs a lot more workers. If the United States did not have immigration it would be shrinking as a population. We need immigration to grow the economy, to grow the labor force and to support all the people who are going to be retiring. If we had stopped immigration in 1965, like some advocated for, we would be about 30 percent smaller country and we would have a 30 percent poorer economy. The United States benefits greatly from immigration, so we really need to fix this system and that starts with providing a pathway to citizenship.
What concerns you most about the announcement to discontinue DACA?
This is actually going to have human costs, economic costs and deeply moral costs if it goes forward. Are we really going to bankrupt the soul of society by kicking out people who represent the American dream — the best and the brightest that we could possibly want?
On the other hand, it’s bringing to a head for people the idea that this doesn’t make sense. When you start trying to round up a population of 800,000 educated, articulate, well-resourced people you are going to have the biggest civil rights movement this country has seen since at least the 1960s, if not ever.
It’s a possibility for lots of social turmoil and division; however, it’s also an opportunity for lots of people to finally come together and reject this way of thinking about things and it could force us to think about long-lasting solutions.
What advice do you have for DACA recipients?
My advice is to make sure that you reapply as soon as possible. These documents must be accepted no later than Oct. 5. Keep calm and carry on, as they say, and stay involved. Society needs to hear your stories. You should talk to the media. You’re already identified, so it’s not like you have anything to hide. People need to understand that you are an American. Have faith that this great experiment — because this is really the test here — that is the United States is going to do the right thing in the end. I think what we’re finding is that the vast majority of people, including Republicans, are saying we can’t [end DACA], so your engagement, your contribution is critical for that consciousness to be raised.
What must be done to resolve this situation in the best possible way?
I think what Congress must do is pass the Dream Act. It’s a bipartisan solution that has been out there for a number of years now, and it’s very clear cut. We should pass it clean. Just solve this problem. Don’t try to create a Frankenstein bill with lots of other components to it at this point. If we want to go back and do a comprehensive review of immigration, which we need to, hopefully this will move us in that direction. And the other thing that should be done in California is that we should continue to push forward policies to protect Dreamers and immigrants who are contributing to society like the University of California is doing it, like the way the state attorney general is defending these Dreamers in court, and developing laws that can be passed in Sacramento.