Ending DACA a giant blow to the Illinois economy

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois (Photo: IANS)

This past week the U.S. Senate failed again to find a way to save the “Dreamers” – the nearly 800,000 young people living in the U.S. without documentation through no fault of their own.  While two federal courts have temporarily blocked the Trump Administration from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, more than 100 Dreamers are losing their protected status each day.  That number will rise to approximately 1,400 a day after President Trump’s DACA cut-off date of March 5, 2018 in less than a month.

President Obama established DACA to protect the education and employment status of undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children.  This was primarily a humanitarian gesture as President Obama believed, like most Americans, that it would be unfair to cast out hundreds of thousands of young people who had known no other home after being brought here as minors.

But this is not just about doing what’s right morally.  Forcibly deporting hundreds of thousands of young people who are Americans in almost every way will seriously hurt our national economy – both now and well into the future.  The young people subject to deportation are anything but slackers – 97 percent of Dreamers are employed or enrolled in school.

Ending DACA would remove 685,000 workers from our nation’s economy, according to the Center for American Progress.  This would result in a loss of more than $460 billion from our Gross Domestic Product – the equivalent of a major natural disaster.  And the damage would spread throughout the economy, from our nation’s largest companies to some of its newest job-creators.  The CAP study found that 72 percent of Fortune 500 companies employ Dreamers.

Here in Illinois we are home to a disproportionate share of Dreamers, and our economy would suffer a significant economic blow should they be compelled to leave.  According to government figures, there are 42,376 Illinois residents with DACA status and an estimated 36,867 are holding jobs. Many Dreamers are working while simultaneously attending school.  The estimated loss to the state’s Gross Domestic Product from removing its DACA workers is $2.3 billion – a blow that our fiscally challenged state would be hard-pressed to absorb.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these young Dreamers are entrepreneurial in spirit — much like previous generations of immigrant Americans.  The CAP study reports that five percent of them started their own businesses after receiving DACA certification.  For Dreamers 25 years and older, this jumps to eight percent – almost three times the number of such entrepreneurs among the U.S. population as a whole.

There’s another important reason not to send the Dreamers packing: they are essential to preserving the social insurance programs on which older Americans rely.  More and more Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age, with relatively fewer and fewer active workers paying into Social Security and Medicare.  Tossing nearly a million productive, taxpaying Dreamers out of a job will remove billions of dollars in contributions to those essential retirement programs.

Each Dreamer in our country is more than a mere statistic.  He or she is a proud American in everything but official documentation.  Here is an email I received from a Dreamer in my congressional district, emblematic of thousands of others across Chicago and Illinois.  (I’ve changed his name to protect his status.)

“Hello Congressman Krishnamoorthi, my name is Roberto and I have lived in your district for the past 17 years.  Considering that I am 23 years old, and have lived in the U.S. since I was 3, I essentially consider myself an American…I am currently in my final semester of college at UIC and will graduate with a double-major in Biology and Psychology.  I work at a local Senior Living Center as well.  On the weekends I help my father and his small business…I pay taxes, follow the law, and constantly try to further my education for my future.”

Do we really want to force young people like Roberto out of our country, losing the energy, knowledge and ambition they provide for our region and our country?  As someone who was brought to the U.S. as an infant by immigrant parents in search of a better life, I hope Congress won’t give up on keeping these Dreamers a part of our nation – for their benefit, and for ours.

Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Schaumburg, represents the 8th Congressional District of Illinois and serves on the House Education and Workforce Committee and the House Oversight Committee.