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New report: DACA program a success in North Carolina

The N.C. Budget and Tax Center is out with a new report today about DACA [1] — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program implemented under President Obama. Its conclusion: the program is a success that we should build on:

“The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy was initially introduced in 2012 by President Obama to address the needs of some undocumented immigrants who had arrived to the United States as minors — a subpopulation within the undocumented immigrant community. DACA provides temporary protection from deportation and work authorization (applicants must apply for renewal after two years), and has led to an increase in employment opportunities and participation in higher education among many beneficiaries. Since its inception, approximately 1.5 million individuals have enrolled in the program. In North Carolina, there are currently 49,712 DACA beneficiaries. In the five years since its inception, DACA has proven to be an effective strategy for boosting beneficiaries’ wages, employment opportunities, and education. While there are several shortcomings to this policy, DACA has been a good first step in addressing our outdated immigration system.”

After examining some of the many benefits DACA has produced, some of its shortcomings and the dangers that would result from ending the program, the report offers three specific recommendations for moving forward:

  1. In-State Tuition. The high cost of higher education continues to be a barrier to college for many DACA beneficiaries. Pursuant to state policy, undocumented students are considered “out-of-state” for tuition purposes and are therefore required to pay out-of-state tuition, despite the fact that many have lived in North Carolina long enough to otherwise qualify as state residents. Additionally, beneficiaries are not eligible for federal financial aid and must instead lean on personal savings, private scholarships and high-interest private loans to cover tuition and college-related costs. Therefore, one policy change would be to increase DACA beneficiaries’ access to higher education by recognizing their state residency for tuition purposes.
  2. Access to Occupational and Professional Licenses. Another way policymakers can strengthen outcomes among beneficiaries is by making them eligible for occupational and professional licenses. In North Carolina, no state law has been passed that specifies DACA beneficiaries as a category of non-citizens eligible for obtaining occupational and professional licenses. Their ineligibility means that some cannot put their education and training into action despite their investment in their education. Despite receiving training to aid those in need, professionals such as nurses and doctors who have DACA cannot put their much needed skills into practice. The absence of this policy can also be a deterrent to enrollment in programs that require licensure, and it contributes to a shortage of skilled labor in our state.
  3. A Pathway to Citizenship. The DACA program as it stands today does not provide a pathway to citizenship for most beneficiaries. The policy provides only temporary relief from deportation for most participants (though there has already been one reported case of a DACA beneficiary deported to their country of birth). The temporary nature of the policy can therefore be a barrier to long-term successes for beneficiaries. For this reason, policymakers should expand eligibility for residency and citizenship in a way that includes all DACA beneficiaries.

Click here [1] to read the entire report.