We call them "the Dreamers." These are the children of the DREAM Act – a bill that eventually took the form of a presidential decree under the name Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Of the 11.3 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States (3.4 percent of the total population), there are 1.3 million immigrants who arrived in the country as children. Sometimes at only a few months old. They have grown up in the United States, and some only discovered their status when they were enrolled in university or at their first job.
Theoretically, they have broken – even if it was unknowingly – migratory laws and are therefore likely to be expelled from the country. In practice, those who benefit from the DACA program are good citizens, if not de jure, at least de facto. Because the conditions for getting DACA protection to temporarily stay in the country to live, study and work were draconian but full of common sense: You had to be in the country before the age of 16, be under 31 in 2012, be a student or holder of a diploma, or have served under the flag, and have good behavior (without conviction for a major offense, which includes drunk driving for example). Then and only then, was it possible to apply for a permit, and you had to maintain these standards in order to be able to renew it for a fee of $495 every two years. This was needed in order to obtain basic documents such as a social security number (which allows you to work legally), a driver's license, and, in some cases, the qualification to enter a university.
2012 now seems to belong to another century. The 787,580 adolescents and young adults who reported to the government a few years ago as part of the DACA program gave their personal information, their addresses, the names of their employers. They have been transparent, but now they are living in fear. The others, who are eligible but have not joined the program, are already in the shadows. Because the new president ended the DACA program in September and promised to expel all "illegal" immigrants: The licenses will start to expire and many of them will go into hiding again.
This means that they leave the house in the morning to go to work wondering if they will come back home at night. This means that they limit their access to health care to a minimum and to major emergencies, for fear of being denounced, for fear of running out of luck in the parking lot of the hospital by meeting an over-zealous official, or for fear of being stopped at a red light by a policeman who decides to fetch “La Migra.”* This means they are afraid of taking their children to school and being arrested in front of them. It also means fear for little Americans, who were born in the United States, that they might go home at night without parents. And, if the parents have not taken the necessary steps (mandate and delegation of power) so that the children are taken care of by members of their family in the United States, they risk being placed in foster care and, eventually – since the parents are deemed to have abandoned them – being put up for adoption. It also means that once on the other side of the border, the "expelled" will no longer have access to their wealth (car, personal property, bank accounts).
The president's decision therefore has neither humanity nor common sense. Because if the Dreamers had a dream, they also contribute to the viability of the American Dream. In fact, 90 percent of them are employed: They pay a total of $2 billion a year in income tax. Excluding them from the labor force would cost $24.6 billion in contributions to health and social insurance programs, according to the Center for American Progress. And while the cost of the logistics of their eviction rises up to $10 billion, the cost of replacing them in the labor force could amount to $3.4 billion. And in some counties – such as Long Beach, Washington, in the northwest of the country – the disappearance of immigrants (whether expelled or fleeing patrolled areas in advance) has already had a net impact on local economies. More generally, the CATO Institute estimates the contraction of economic growth relative to this decision to $280 billion.
On the streets, immigration services zealously enforce presidential tweets as if they were executive directives. In Congress, the Democrats promise not to drop the Dreamers. In the courts, judges try to institute final defenses. In silence, fear has infiltrated the cracks of American politics.
*Editor’s note: “La migra” is a slang term used to describe immigration law enforcement agencies – for example, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).