On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump ordered the cancellation of DACA, a program put in place by his predecessor Barack Obama that effectively shielded young undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children from deportation. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is based on the principle of prosecutorial discretion, was enacted in 2012 and has benefited some 800,000 individuals under 31 whose parents brought them into the country illegally before the age of 16, and had lived in the US continuously since 2007 and were in school or had graduated (though in total, 1.1 million may have been eligible for the program). DACA did not grant these immigrants US citizenship or permanent residency—only an act of Congress can do that—but made them a non-priority for immigration law enforcement and offered them renewable two-year work permits.
Trump and other critics of DACA have long maintained that it constituted an overreach of President Obama’s executive authority. Trump’s order gives Congress six months to enact a legislative alternative to protect the so-called “Dreamers” covered by DACA, after which time the administration will begin phasing out its protections. What that phase-out will look like is unclear: Trump has said he would “revisit this issue” at that time, creating massive uncertainty regarding the future direction of this policy if Congress fails to act.
Trump’s decision to end DACA has drawn swift and strong condemnation from the same set of American business leaders who have voiced criticism of the president’s other immigration policies. Last week, the pro-immigration reform business organization FWD.us issued an open letter to Trump and Congressional leaders, signed by hundreds of CEOs, calling on Trump not to end DACA and on Congress to act to give the Dreamers permanent legal status:
All DACA recipients grew up in America, registered with our government, submitted to extensive background checks, and are diligently giving back to our communities and paying income taxes. More than 97 percent are in school or in the workforce, 5 percent started their own business, 65 percent have purchased a vehicle, and 16 percent have purchased their first home. At least 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies count DACA recipients among their employees.
Unless we act now to preserve the DACA program, all 780,000 hardworking young people will lose their ability to work legally in this country, and every one of them will be at immediate risk of deportation. Our economy would lose $460.3 billion from the national GDP and $24.6 billion in Social Security and Medicare tax contributions. Dreamers are vital to the future of our companies and our economy. With them, we grow and create jobs. They are part of why we will continue to have a global competitive advantage.
Signatories to the letter include key figures in the tech sector such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Meg Whitman, Netflix’s Reed Hastings, and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella. Many of these CEOs and their peers later issued personal statements decrying the plan to repeal DACA.
While some of these statements have objected to Trump’s reversal of DACA on the grounds that it is inhumane to deport DACA beneficiaries, the main critique being leveled by corporate America is that it is economically short-sighted and counterproductive—noting that Dreamers contribute enormously to the US economy and tax base. Removing them could also be costly: A study by the libertarian Cato Institute estimated that, conservatively, deporting the Dreamers would cost the US economy over $200 billion and the US government over $60 billion in lost revenue.
There is also a talent-based case being made against DACA: Considering the tight talent market faced by many organizations, especially for tech roles, deporting hundreds of thousands of educated workers may hurt competitiveness. Both of these arguments were the focus of an op-ed published on Wednesday by business leader and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg:
According to a new analysis by New American Economy, a coalition of business leaders I co-chair, the young people who qualify for … DACA, earn almost $20 billion in income annually. They pay more than $3 billion in local, state and federal taxes, and they contribute almost $2 billion to Social Security and $470 million to Medicare. Another study found that passing a DREAM Act to keep young immigrants here instead of sending them abroad would pump over $300 billion into the U.S. economy over the next two decades.
Immigrants and their children have founded more than 40 percent of our Fortune 500 companies. Think of the next Main Street entrepreneur who grows his or her company to employ many local residents. Or the next Silicon Valley entrepreneur who builds a company that benefits millions of Americans — and keeps America at the forefront of the global economy. Think too of the next award-winning teacher, or life-saving doctor.
The majority of DACA beneficiaries are nationals of Latin American countries, and as such belong to one of the key underrepresented demographics US organizations are focusing on in their diversity and inclusion initiatives. Accordingly, other business leaders have used their statements of support for DACA as vehicles for an argument about the value of diversity, such as Craig Silliman, executive vice president, public policy and general counsel at Verizon:
The Dreamers are a truly valuable resource for our economy and our society. The DACA program has ensured that they could continue to be a part of our schools and companies and communities, but now there is a risk that this program will end. At a time when we are fighting to ensure that the US economy remains strong on the global stage, it is vital that we not lose the advantage of the Dreamers with their energy, diverse experience and backgrounds. This is exactly the type of diverse talent that has made the United States successful to date and on which our success will depend in the future.
Some organizations that employ DACA beneficiaries are also communicating to those employees that they will act to help them avoid deportation if and when the program is rescinded. For example, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith wrote in a blog post on Tuesday:
For the 39 Dreamers that we know of who are our employees, our commitment is clear. If Congress fails to act, our company will exercise its legal rights properly to help protect our employees. If the government seeks to deport any one of them, we will provide and pay for their legal counsel. We will also file an amicus brief and explore whether we can directly intervene in any such case. In short, if Dreamers who are our employees are in court, we will be by their side.