The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has had a bumpy road.
It’s been nearly eight years since then-President Barack Obama introduced the policy in the Summer of 2012. But the future is still uncertain for DACA and the “Dreamers” (this name derived from the 2001 DREAM Act, which aimed to grant lawful presence and employment opportunities to young immigrants residing in the U.S. unlawfully after being brought in by their parents).
In September 2017, the Trump administration announced its decision to put an end to DACA entirely, turning away new applicants while permitting those already authorized to work under DACA to maintain their temporary status until their two-year DACA status expired.
DACA’s termination, however, has been on hold as multiple courts have debated whether the move to cease the program was unlawful. While new applicants have remained barred from applying to DACA, the legal battles have given hundreds of thousands of existing DACA holders the chance to renew their status for another two year period.
Now, as the calendar turns to a new year, DACA’s fate is in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The highest court in the land finds itself tasked with determining whether DACA was illegally terminated; a decision is expected in the first half of 2020.
In the meantime, employers have much to consider where DACA is concerned—what they must know before hiring Dreamers, how much longer they might be able to, and not least of all, what these individuals can bring to the workforce.
There may be hope for Dreamers
Regardless of how the Supreme Court eventually rules on DACA, all is not lost for organizations seeking to hire Dreamers, says Candy Marshall, president of TheDream.US, a non-partisan national scholarship program for Dreamers, which provides an online fact sheet for employers hiring Dreamers.
“Even if the court rules that the Trump administration lawfully rescinded DACA, employers can still hire and continue to employ people with current employment authorization documents, i.e., work permit,” says Marshall.
“These permits are valid until they expire, and most DACA holders have been renewing their DACA and work permits early. These permits won’t expire until two years after they were issued.”
In that time frame, Dreamers will be able to legally work, Marshall says, pointing out that it’s unlawful to refuse to hire a DACA recipient on the grounds that his or her work permit may expire.
“In that time, there’s also the possibility that Congress will provide permanent protections or that a DACA holder will have another path to permanent residency,” says Marshall.
A number of companies—including some high-profile ones—have already made these DACA recipients an integral part of their workforces. In fact, according to The Dream.US, DACA recipients work at 72% of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies.
In October 2019, a group of 143 companies and business associations that included The National Retail Federation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Amazon, Google, and Intel filed an amicus brief spelling out Dreamers’ many contributions to these and other U.S.-based organizations.
“Prior to DACA, these young people—who have obtained at least a high school degree and, in many cases, have finished college and graduate school—would have been unable to obtain work authorization, and therefore unable to put their education and skills to productive use,” the brief reads.
“DACA changed that, and, as a result, over 90% of Dreamers are employed in virtually every sector of the economy.” (According to the Center for America Progress, 16,000 DACA recipients work in education, including thousands of K-12 teachers, with another 27,000 employed in the healthcare sector, including as doctors and nurses.)
The brief also offered a look at the dire consequences of eliminating DACA.
Ending the program would “inflict serious harm on U.S. companies, all workers, and the American economy as a whole. Companies will lose valued employees. Workers will lose employers and co-workers. Our national GDP will lose up to $460.3 billion, and tax revenues will be reduced by approximately $90 billion over the next decade.”
Accessing the hidden talent pool
In 2019, tech titan Apple felt compelled to share what Dreamers have brought to its organization, and how putting an end to DACA would affect the company.
On the same day SCOTUS justices received the aforementioned brief, Apple filed its own amicus brief with the court, voicing the company’s support for DACA.
As Apple CEO Tim Cook and Senior Vice President of Retail and People Deirdre O’Brien point out in the 20-page document, Apple “employs a diverse workforce of over 90,000 employees in the United States alone.”
Among them, 443 are Dreamers, who came to the States from more than 25 different countries on four continents.
“We did not hire them out of kindness or charity,” the brief notes. “We did it because Dreamers embody Apple’s innovation strategy.”
The brief provides examples of how Dreamers have positively affected Apple, such as “W.V.,” who was brought to the U.S. as an eight-year-old by his father.
Hired as a contractor, W.V. was offered a full-time position at Apple as a maps analyst. His supervisor describes him as “an indispensable part of my group,” and worries that he would be unable to find a replacement with W.V.’s unique abilities should he be forced to leave the U.S.
Employees like W.V. represent one of just many different groups comprising the broader—and often untapped—talent pool that research by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) research shows employers must access in order to thrive.
In a 2019 survey, only 14% of the nearly 550 respondents said their organizations currently have the talent they need to successfully achieve its objectives over the next three years.
In a September 2019 blog post, Lorrie Lykins, managing editor and vice president of research at i4cp, looked at how the definition of the ready talent pool is evolving in many organizations in meaningful ways.
“This includes looking more closely at groups they previously might not have focused resources on, such as former employees, older workers, people with disabilities, and candidates who were not hired the first time they applied,” Lykins wrote.
Circumstances have made Dreamers—an often-overlooked part of the talent pool—an especially motivated, resilient, and driven cohort, says Marshall.
“Their families gave up everything to get them to a country where they could get a college education and, in turn, they have an extraordinary sense of responsibility to use their education to improve the well-being of their families, communities, and society as a whole. They are innately entrepreneurial, often bilingual, and come from the very communities that employers see as part of their growth markets.”