By Chris Duggan
Imagine you are working your first job out of high school, your boss gives you a promotion for all your hard work, and you go home to celebrate only to find a notice in the mail informing you, for the first time in your life, that you are an illegal immigrant. Believe it or not, thousands of Americans have experienced this surreal news bulletin, many on their way to a college degree, or working to their next paycheck.
Immigrants who come to this country illegally often do so with their families, and that means bringing children, sometimes when they are barely old enough remember the move. Thousands of young people have since been notified that they need to return to a country that they barely remember, sometimes with a national language they don’t even speak.
Set aside the personal trauma this would cause. Rooting out thousands of young workers would also wreak havoc with our local and national workforce, consumer markets, and overall economic health.
The federal government adopted a program in 2012 to address this very problem. The Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals program allows these young people to stay in the country, provided that they stay employed (or enrolled in college), undergo extensive background checks, pay a fee, and meet stringent criteria and standards.
Since then, nearly 800,000 young people have come out of the shadows and registered under DACA. By every measure, the program has been a success. Over 95 percent of DACA recipients are working or in school. 440,000 have bought a car, 96,000 have bought a house, and 48,000 have started their own businesses, often employing native-born Americans. These positive experiences redound to our overall economic growth.
With Thursday’s news of possible agreement between President Trump and Democratic leaders, we can be hopeful that federal legislation to preserve DACA will be supported by our area’s members of Congress.
Without DACA, it would cost California over $11.6 billion in annual GDP losses — partly by igniting massive worker turnover and instability. I come from the restaurant industry, where undocumented employees comprise 20 percent of the country’s more than 2.5 million cooks, and 28 percent of the country’s estimated 360,000 dishwashers. And the role of immigrants in our restaurants is only expected to grow, with the industry on track to expand its workforce by 14 percent over the next decade, likely creating far more jobs than the U.S.-born workforce can fill. But DACA’s economic importance goes far beyond restaurants.
Consider that San Diego County alone is home to an estimated 44,000 DACA recipients. Turning 44,000 of our residents (virtually all of whom are gainfully employed workers or students) into targets for deportation would have sweeping economic impacts on our communities.
Fortunately, there seems to be hope for federal legislation that will preserve DACA.
Chris Duggan is the California Restaurant Association’s local government affairs director for San Diego, Imperial, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
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