WASHINGTON — Undocumented young people called Dreamers have seen their average wages jump 45 percent since President Barack Obama granted them temporary authorization to stay in the U.S. and legally work here, according to a report released Thursday.
Dreamers, brought to the U.S. as children by their parents, earn an average hourly wage of $17.29 with work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that Obama announced three years ago, up from an average of $11.92 before the program, according to the report.
The report, by the Center for American Progress, National Immigration Law Center, and Tom K. Wong of the University of California, San Diego, surveyed Dreamers to gauge economic and educational effects of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. The program has allowed nearly 665,000 young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. before they turned 16 to stay and work legally for two years, with the opportunity to renew.
The survey found that 76 percent of DACA recipients were employed, while 20 percent were in school and not working. Forty-five percent were working and in school. Of those who were working, 69 percent said they had better pay after gaining coverage from the program and 54 percent said they had better working conditions.
The higher wages mean more tax revenue and economic growth, suggesting that the program benefits the economy, the authors wrote.
Philip Wolgin, associate director of immigration at the Center for American Progress, said many of the survey’s findings echo other studies, but the significant jump in wages was a surprise. Theoretical studies projected wages would rise an average of about 8.5 percent for DACA recipients — far less than the 45 percent jump shown in the survey.
One DACA recipient, Reyna Montoya, 24, told HuffPost that her education and work opportunities widened after she received DACA. She graduated from Arizona State University in 2012, months before the announcement of DACA. She didn’t know what she would do post-graduation.
“I graduated with two bachelor’s degrees and a minor,” Montoya said. “I was that student taking 21 credits every semester and I was recognized as the most outstanding of the graduating students in 2012 at the Hispanic convocation and it was kind of like a very bittersweet moment for me, because at that moment I still didn’t have a Social Security number.”
Now, she’s teaching and working toward her master’s degree.
“Last year was the first year that I started teaching high school,” Montoya said. “That was a big opportunity that I wouldn’t have been able to do it without DACA.”
The report found that 89 percent of DACA recipients had received a driver’s license, and 21 percent bought their first car. More than 90 percent of those still in school said they had “pursued educational opportunities [they] previously could not.”
The authors said their findings also may have implications for another of Obama’s deportation-relief policies, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, which has been blocked in court. That program would grant similar benefits to DACA for undocumented immigrants who have U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident children. The survey found that 40 percent of DACA recipients had parents eligible for DAPA, because they had a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident sibling.
An expansion of DACA also is blocked in the courts, but the 2012 iteration of the program is still operating. The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments on Friday in a lawsuit against DAPA and the expanded DACA.
Wolgin said the report may challenge state claims that they face financial challenges due to the deferred action programs. He noted that officials in Texas, which led the lawsuit, argued in their lawsuit that it would cost the state to issue driver’s licenses to potential DAPA recipients, but they failed to account for potential tax revenue from undocumented immigrants’ increased buying power.
“In our study, one in three new DACA recipients in Texas bought a car,” Wolgin said. “That means they’re paying sales tax on that and all this kind of adds up to say, well, is it really harm? You know, we don’t think so.”
The survey was conducted in June with 546 respondents. Researchers were “confident” 467 of those are DACA recipients. Respondents live in 34 states the the District of Columbia. The median age was 22. Of the respondents, 73 percent were women and 26 percent were men.