Kris Mayes and 22 other attorneys general defend DACA
Attorney General Kris Mayes in January 2023. Photo by Gage Skidmore (modified) | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
More than 30,000 Arizonans are DACA recipients, and Attorney General Kris Mayes joined nearly two dozen other states last week in defending the program on their behalf.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, commonly referred to as DACA, is a federal policy that shields eligible recipients from deportation and affords them a work permit. The policy has weathered numerous challenges since its inception in 2012, with the latest being a January request from nine Republican-led states urging a federal judge considering its legality to shut it down entirely. In response, 22 states headed by Democratic administrations filed an opposing brief on March 10 asking the judge to consider the damage doing so would mean.
Federal Judge Andrew Hanen, who previously ruled against the program, has in the past stopped short of completely eliminating it, opting instead to freeze the program for new applicants while allowing already approved recipients to renew their applications every two years.
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Arizona has been enriched by the contributions of DACA recipients, Mayes said in a press release, and eliminating the program is the wrong choice.
“Tens of thousands of young immigrants have made Arizona their home because DACA protections have allowed them to build their lives here, and our state is better because of it,” she said. “Attempts to strip away these protections by abruptly ending DACA are misguided, irresponsible, and just plain wrong.”
More than 60% of DACA recipients reside in the states advocating for the program’s preservation, including California, New York and New Mexico. Such a large segment of the population, the states argue, represents a significant share of both tax revenues and the workforce. The DACA program allows recipients to be involved in their communities and contribute to their state’s success, instead of being forced to strain the social safety net.
“They are valued members of the community and vital members of the workforce who contribute to the tax base,” the Democratic attorneys general wrote.
The states have relied on DACA recipients to fill gaps in important labor sectors, including healthcare, which became especially critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. Arizona was suffering from a nurse shortage before the pandemic occurred, and it has only worsened since. Experts estimate it will continue through 2030. The Grand Canyon State is also grappling with a seven-year teacher shortage that, as of a February survey, means that more than 2,000 positions remain unfilled by qualified candidates.
“Because DACA encourages recipients to remain in school and pursue further education, the policy has also increased productivity amongst grantees and created more opportunities for high-skilled work,” reads the brief. “This has redounded to the benefit of amici States, particularly in the critical education and healthcare sectors: approximately 20,000 DACA recipients are employed as teachers in school districts across the country, and an estimated 34,000 DACA recipients serve as healthcare workers.”
To qualify for DACA, candidates must either have graduated from high school, earned a GED certificate, be enrolled in school or have been honorably discharged from the military, along with a bevy of other requirements.
Because DACA recipients are so actively involved in their host states’ economies, eliminating the program completely would have devastating consequences, write the attorneys general. As much as $280 billion would be lost in national growth over the next decade, and $33.1 billion in social security contributions and $7.7 billion in Medicare contributions would be forfeited. The states would be left with employment vacuums to fill and would be denied the returns on investments made in education and training.
The Democratic-led states called on Hanen to reject the request of their nine GOP counterparts. Alternatively, if he agrees to eliminate the program, they ask Hanen to pause the effects of his ruling while the appeals process continues, or remand the order back to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to give them time to figure out how to wind it down. The request from the GOP states advocates for just a two-year phase out.
“This Court should ensure that any remedy it orders takes appropriate account of (the states’) reliance interests, and minimizes the serious harm that terminating DACA would cause to all who have relied on the policy in structuring their affairs over the past decade: hundreds of thousands of individuals who know no home other than this country, as well as their families, communities, employers, and the States in which they reside,” reads the brief.
Reyna Montoya, who is herself a DACA recipient and is also the founder and CEO of pro-immigrant organization Aliento, said it’s encouraging to see Arizona’s attorney general backing the state’s immigrant population. Mayes’ predecessor, Republican Mark Brnovich, joined the coalition of GOP states who brought the first legal challenge to the expansion of DACA in 2015, and supported ongoing efforts to dissolve the program while he was in office.
“I am heartened by Attorney General Kris Mayes’ leadership to ensure that DACA recipients remain in the only country they know as their home,” Montoya wrote in an emailed statement. “The DACA program has allowed me to become a social entrepreneur, educator and homeowner.”
Montoya called on Congress to resolve the uncertainty and anxiety suffered by recipients across the country by passing the DREAM Act, which would grant a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as minors.
“It’s time for Congress to finally pass the DREAM Act. We are tired of being used as political football,” she said.
Eleven versions of the Act have been introduced since 2001, but each has failed to move forward, and with the U.S. House of Representatives currently in GOP control, it’s unlikely this session will prove different.
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