Demonstrators from the immigrant community advocacy group CASA carry signs as they march in the hopes of a ruling in their favor on decisions at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Last week’s Supreme Court decision effectively torpedoed the Obama administration’s 2014 executive actions on immigration, delivering what President Obama called a “heartbreaking” blow to an estimated five million people who could have received work permits and deportation relief.
Two programs at the core of the 2014 executive action – Deferred Action of Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and an expanded version of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – were challenged in a lawsuit filed by 26 states, led by Texas, which accused the President of overstepping his executive powers in shaping immigration policy. A split Supreme Court meant that the decision upheld a lower court ruling on the case, effectively killing both programs – at least for now. A 2012 version of DACA was not affected.
The immediate effects of the Supreme Court’s decision will be most directly felt by immigrants. But the reality is that businesses, local governments, law enforcement, and other civic institutions will all lose because of the decision. The stalemate leaves the status quo – a woefully outdated immigration system – fully in place, unable to meet today’s economic and security realities.
The list of missed opportunities is long under our current immigration regime. DACA and DAPA, relatively small efforts in the context of a much larger system update, would have punched above their weight in terms of collective benefits to our country:
- Economy: On a dollars-and-cents level, DACA and DAPA would have been a windfall to local economies that are struggling to grow. By granting work permits to those who qualified, the programs would have revitalized our aging labor force, boosted wages for American workers, and filled local tax coffers. Cash-strapped Illinois stood to gain $347 million in tax dollars over the next five years. The net benefit to the 12-state Midwest would have been $652 million.
- Workforce: Deferred action held promise in tackling labor shortages that plague key industries like healthcare. Stalled immigration reform has created a generation of college graduates who, without work authorization, are unable to put their hard-earned degrees to use. It also limits options for 65,000 undocumented high school graduates who cannot access federal financial aid or in-state college tuition in some places. While thousands of students became “DACAmented” under the 2012 program and are now working, the 2014 expansion would have pumped even more skilled graduates into our economy. The 10 states with the largest undocumented student populations – a list that includes Illinois – would have gained $1.5 billion in wages and $40 million in income tax with improved college-to-work transition rates for these grads.
- National Security: Against growing concerns over terrorism, programs such as DACA and DAPA would have been a boon to national security. By giving five million people the opportunity to comply with the biometrics screenings and criminal background checks that are a standard part of the immigration process, we would have reduced the size of the proverbial “haystack” in rooting out true security threats – terrorists, gang members, felons – in our country. And there were other security upshots: Screened immigrants would have been issued valid identification – such as driver’s licenses – thus reducing identity fraud. The nation’s roads would have enjoyed fewer unlicensed and uninsured drivers. And immigrants who are no longer fearful of deportation can better cooperate with law enforcement officials, helping tackle crime in local communities.
The Supreme Court’s impasse means inaction on all these critical areas.
But if there is a silver lining to Texas vs. US, it is a renewed sense of urgency around federal immigration reform. In fact, some analysts argue that the Supreme Court deadlock on deferred action was actually a best-case scenario for reform, as it will re-engage a multicultural electorate ahead of November’s elections and turn up the pressure on Congress to act on immigration reform in 2017.
The harmful effects of a continued impasse and confusion on immigration policy are not reserved solely for immigrants. The country’s economic health, national security, and future workforce all hang in the balance. Our nation cannot afford to make this loss – however temporary or short-term – a permanent defeat.