Jessica Vaughan, Center for Immigration Studies, October 3, 2017
My statement addresses the implementation and impact of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and provides recommendations for how Congress should move forward. There is no doubt that the DACA benefits have been a major blessing for the recipients and their families. The educational institutions they attended and their employers also benefited. But there also have been some adverse side effects for the American economy, for local communities, and for our immigration system. The DACA program not only was an egregious abuse of executive authority, it was carelessly implemented. It has displaced legal U.S. workers from employment opportunities, added to the cost of public welfare and assistance programs, provided deportation protection to criminals, diverted resources away from processing benefits for legal immigrants, invited fraudulent applications, and helped inspire a surge of new illegal immigration.
DACA Was Carelessly Implemented
The public image of the DACA recipients that has been carefully cultivated by activists and their allies is that they are young people who were “brought” to the United States at a young age through no fault of their own, are well-educated, have a clean background, have gone through a rigorous screening process, and are now indistinguishable from the best and brightest American youths.
The reality is that the DACA eligibility criteria were quite lenient and the screening of applications was cursory.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had adopted a notorious “get to yes” culture and emphasized speed of processing over careful review. There was no requirement that applicants be interviewed, and few were. Claims made by applicants and documents submitted to support the application were not routinely or randomly verified. Many of the documents required for the application, such as residency information, diplomas, and even identity documents, were possible to produce on a home computer, or could easily be obtained from document vendors, often operating on the internet. The agency adjudicators were told to accept electronic messages such as e-mails and even text messages as “proof” of claims. Applicants were not required to demonstrate proficiency in English.
Adjudicators were told to adopt a “lite and lean” background check, without reviewing all of the security and criminal databases that are typically checked before approving benefits applications.1
Renewals have been rubber-stamped, with no attempt to re-visit the claims of the original application or to confirm employment or that educational criteria have been met.
According to USCIS, today approximately 690,000 individuals have the DACA benefit. Of all the new applications adjudicated since the inception of the program, 92.1 percent were approved. Of the all renewals adjudicated, 99.6 percent were approved.
Characteristics of DACA Recipients
Very little is known of the characteristics of the DACA population.
While a number of DACA recipients appear to be well-educated and successful, at the same time there appear to be many — the roughly 40 percent with no education beyond high school — who likely are working in relatively low-paying jobs that do not require much education or skills. This means that they are in direct competition for jobs with some of the most vulnerable American and legal immigrant workers. At the same time that the 690,000 DACA beneficiaries have been able to secure legal employment, there were more than four million unemployed Americans of the same age range who are unemployed. Nearly half of these unemployed Americans are black or Hispanic.
Theoretically they are not eligible for federal welfare programs, but federal law gives the states great leeway to set the rules for access, and many states allow DACA beneficiaries to receive these benefits and services (if qualified based on income). For example, New York allows DACA recipients to participate in its public health insurance program, Medicaid, the cash assistance program, and more.3 California allows DACA recipients to receive Pre-Natal Medicare, Community Clinic Care, SSI, cash assistance, and more.4 I am unaware of any accounting or estimate of the public assistance payouts to DACA beneficiaries to date. Three other places that allow DACA beneficiaries to qualify for Medicaid are Minnesota, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia.5
Low Eligibility Standards Mean Criminals Received DACA
The low eligibility standards, which explicitly allowed some people with criminal records to obtain DACA, together with the inadequate screening of applications and failure to ensure thorough review of databases virtually guaranteed that mistakes were made in granting DACA benefits to individuals who turned out to be criminals. USCIS has disclosed that 2,139 people have had their DACA benefits revoked due to criminal behavior or gang ties. According to USCIS, most of these crimes were for “alien smuggling, assaultive offenses, domestic violence, drug offenses, DUI, larceny and thefts, criminal trespass and burglary, sexual offenses with minors, other sex offenses, and weapons offenses.”6
Following the mistaken approval of benefits in 2013 for Emmanual Jesus Rangel-Hernandez, a DACA beneficiary who killed four people in Charlotte, N.C., who was approved for DACA despite evidence of gang membership that was in the system (that the USCIS officer failed to check).
Even more disturbing, only about one-third of these individuals whose DACA status was terminated due to crimes or gang ties were promptly removed; most of the rest were released and allowed to remain in the United States for some time, even without DACA benefits.7 It appears that more than 100 of these gang members were not put on the path to deportation at all and likely have been allowed to remain in the United States.
An MS-13 gang leader in Frederick, Md., was able to receive DACA benefits and worked as a custodian at a local middle school. He is now incarcerated for various gang-related crimes, but reportedly was told by gang leaders in El Salvador to take advantage of the lenient policies at the U.S. border to bring in new recruits, knowing that they would be allowed to resettle in the area with few questions asked.
In another troubling case, Edgar Covarrubias-Padilla, an alleged DACA recipient who was working as the night manager at a popular overnight science camp in northern California, was arrested by local authorities and charged with four felonies, including possession and distribution of more than 600 child porn images and a charge for lewd and lascivious act with a child under 14. According to whistle-5blowers, ICE agents had become aware of an investigation into Covarrubias-Padilla’s behavior and updated his USCIS file, but USCIS took no action for months, and Covarrubias-Padilla remained in his job in a position to abuse other children.
The implementation of DACA prevented the removal of thousands of aliens who were in deportation proceedings at the time. According to ICE records, in the first six months that DACA was operating, there were 4,594 people who had been in removal proceedings, but who instead received DACA benefits.8 There is a strong likelihood that many of these individuals had criminal convictions in order for them to be in deportation proceedings under Obama administration policies. In some instances, Obama appointees at DHS headquarters exerted pressure on field office enforcement personnel to drop deportation proceedings for aliens seeking DACA benefits, even in cases where the deportation case was based on state criminal convictions.9