On September 5, 2017, the Trump administration announced plans to dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, implemented via executive order by President Obama in 2012. As of early February 2018, the fate of DACA remains up in the air, with both Democrats and Republicans pledging to continue working toward new legislation to resolve the issue.
The main objective of the DACA program is to shield Dreamers – undocumented immigrants who came into the United States as children – from deportation, while giving them the ability to participate fully in society through educational and employment opportunities. According to USCIS, as of September 2017, there are 689,800 DACA recipients in the US. A recent poll conducted by CBS news suggests that about 9 in 10 people, or 87 percent of the US population, support the DACA program and believe that Dreamers should be permitted to stay in the US.
The move toward repeal has led immigration advocacy organizations and other progressive groups to stand up in favor of the DACA program and demand that Congress ensure that Dreamers are protected. Public officials, including mayors, state representatives, and judges, as well as civic and faith leaders have also declared their support for the DACA program. In the private sector, business leaders, including the CEOs of Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix, and Twitter co-signed an open letter in support of DACA and calling on Congress to enact legislation that would provide Dreamers a permanent status to remain in the US legally.
The potential consequences of DACA repeal are significant, as most recipients are not eligible for immigration relief if their status under DACA expires. If Congress is unable to reach a permanent solution, DACA recipients will continue to live in uncertainty. For women, the ramifications could be even more severe. Below, attorney Irina Matiychenko, Director of the Immigration Protection Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group, helps explain some of the challenges that women Dreamers could face.
1. Loss of employment
As recipients of DACA, undocumented immigrants were granted authorization to legally work in the US. This encouraged many Dreamers to pursue various educational and training opportunities and many are employed throughout all industries and at all levels. A survey conducted by the American Center for Progress and the National Immigration Law Center shows that DACA recipients received “higher paying jobs” after enrolling in the DACA program. The survey also revealed that many DACA recipients opened their own businesses, resulting in more jobs and tax revenue for the US economy.
NYLAG Immigration Attorneys at DACA protest in NYC
Repeal of DACA would strip employment authorization from recipients, and according to Matiychenko, entrepreneurs and business owners would be in danger of having their “businesses taken away from them and being left with nothing.” The ramifications of this are significant. According to a 2017 survey by the Center for American Progress, five percent of DACA recipients have started their own businesses, while eight percent of recipients ages 25 and older have become entrepreneurs — which means that DACA recipients “are outpacing the general population in terms of business creation.”
For immigrant women in New York City, starting a business is already very difficult, and a DACA repeal would amount to yet another roadblock to entrepreneurship. According to a 2015 report by Women Entrepreneurs New York City (WE NYC), NYC’s immigrant women find it significantly more difficult to find customers and hire people for their businesses, compared with women overall. Additionally, immigrant women “are the most willing to take risks” in starting businesses, an asset to the city’s economic growth that could be dimmed with the repeal of DACA.
Given DACA recipients’ proclivity toward entrepreneurship, they could go on to start successful businesses, boosting the economy in the process, if they were offered a path to citizenship. According to a 2017 article by Rodrigo Camarena, Strategy Director at Purpose PBC, and former Executive Director of Business Programs at the New York City Department of Small Business Services, immigrants are “nearly twice as likely as nonimmigrants to start businesses nationwide”, and while immigrants make up just over a third of the NYC population (37 percent), they own nearly half (47 percent) of the city’s small businesses.
But the economic effects of DACA extend far beyond NYC: The Center for American Progress asserts that approximately $460 billion could be lost in the next decade and about 685,000 people could lose their jobs if the DACA program is rescinded. And ultimately, it is crucial that young immigrant women are encouraged and supported in the quest to attain education and economic stability. According the World Bank, when girls and young women face obstacles in receiving an education, they are more likely to marry at a younger age, “suffer domestic violence, live in poverty, and lack a say over household spending or their own health care”.
2. Loss of medical coverage
Losing the ability to work also means losing access to employer-sponsored medical plans, says Matiychenko. For DACA recipients, who are “barred from Medicaid and CHIP, and from buying insurance on the Obamacare exchanges” (although not in New York State, which considers recipients permanent residents), receiving health insurance through employers is crucial. For women recipients in particular, losing health insurance could be devastating. Matiychenko worries that thousands of women would be forced to forego essential reproductive health screenings and pre- and postnatal care, and be less likely to utilize low-cost or free clinics for fear of drawing attention to their immigration status.
An absence of medical coverage, combined with the fear of deportation often results in pregnant undocumented immigrant women not receiving screenings for gestational diabetes and other conditions that harm themselves and the fetus. According to Planned Parenthood, up to 60 percent of undocumented immigrant women of reproductive age are lacking medical coverage. These women are often less likely to utilize essential preventative care such as Pap tests, STD screenings, and birth control. The National Women’s Law Center found that in 2017, “only about half of immigrant women at risk for unplanned pregnancy obtained contraceptive care” versus “two-thirds of US-born women”.
3. Psychological and emotional harm
NYLAG Staff at DACA Rally in New York City September, 2017
According to Matiychenko, undocumented immigrant women embraced the DACA program because “they believed and trusted the government” and were given “hope” for a better future for themselves and their families. Now, the government has backtracked on its promises, instilling not only a sense of betrayal, but also fear of deportation. For most Dreamers, the US is the only home they have known, and the prospect of being deported to an unfamiliar country in which they have no ties is understandably terrifying. Furthermore, Dreamers may be forced to return to countries that lack opportunities and are downright unsafe for women.
Matiychenko further stressed that a DACA repeal would put mothers in a particularly difficult position, since many women recipients of DACA have children who are US citizens. A 2017 study led by University of California at San Diego political scientist Tom K. Wong found that one in four Dreamers has a US-born child, which leaves an estimated 200,000 children in the US with a DACA-recipient parent.
And many of those parents may be single mothers. According to the Migration Policy Institute, while men make up only 53 percent of the US’s overall unauthorized population, they comprised 91 percent of the 3.7 million deportations carried out by the Department of Homeland Security between 2003-2013. Furthermore, according to “Everyday Illegal: When Policies Undermine Immigrant Families”, published in 2015 by Joanna Dreby and discussed by the American Psychological Association, “Since the overwhelming majority of deportees are men, remaining women often abruptly become single mothers in charge of all financial, household and childcare responsibilities.”
While the research above is not specific to DACA recipients, there is growing concern for Dreamers who are single mothers. As The New Yorker reported in July 2017, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been targeting “a considerable number of women who have no criminal records and who are either the primary caretakers of young children, or the primary family breadwinners, or both.” These women could face impossible choices if they are deported; their children could end up in the foster care system if left behind in the US, or face safety concerns and limited opportunities for education and employment in a new country if they leave.
4. Vulnerability to abuse and exploitation
The immigrant rights organization We Belong Together has reported that immigrant women are three to six times likelier than US-born women to experience domestic abuse, often due to their fear of deportation and limited financial resources. Abusers will often use a woman’s immigration status against her to maintain control and make it more difficult for her to leave the abusive marriage or relationship. According to Matiychenko, the current administration’s rhetoric and policy stances regarding immigration further discourage women from reporting domestic violence, sexual assault, and other crimes due to fear of ICE detention and/or deportation. Fear of deportation could also lead to an uptick in fraudulent marriages by women hoping to avoid family separation. Women may also put up with various forms of harassment and abuse in the workplace and academia for fear of being deported.
When asked whether repeal of DACA would further contribute to women being fearful to seek assistance from law enforcement, the justice system, and even medical personnel, Matiychenko exclaimed, “Of course, who would trust this government? Especially when the government states that everyone is deportable.”
DACA repeal would be devastating for all recipients, but the reality of repeal and deportation could be especially difficult for women. Matiychenko asserted that it is “heartless” for the current administration to play with the lives of DACA recipients as a political ploy to get Democrats to cooperate with their agenda. She further noted that DACA recipients are “our children” and must be protected and given legal status.
In concluding our conversation, Matiychenko shared that as a refugee from the Soviet Union, she appreciates the US constitution and everything that the US stands for. Thus, she urged that DACA recipients and their supporters must not lose hope and should continue to actively advocate against rescission. In fact, the New York Legal Assistance Group, along with many other legal service organizations, recently joined an amicus brief against rescission of DACA.
Also worth noting, is that even if DACA is ultimately kept in place, it is not perfect, as a group of Dreamers told the Columbia Journalism Reviewin December 2017: “the program grants two years of deportation relief that can be revoked. At no point did the program put us on a path to citizenship.”
If you have questions about your DACA status, or want to join the movement in support of DACA and a path toward citizenship, see the resources below.
- The New York Legal Assistance Group has set up a DACA Assistance Line for anyone with questions or concerns about their DACA status.
- There are also opportunities to get involved with the New York Legal Assistance Group as a volunteer.
Originally publish on New Women New Yorkers’ blog