Congress ineptitude on DACA is why it exists

Newsplaining Column: Back in 2012, former President Barack Obama used the Executive Power of the U.S. Presidency to establish the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which, since its signing, has protected over 800,000 young adult, unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. Whether or not Obama had the authority to protect said immigrants is a column and debate for a different time and place, and requires a constitutional law prowess that I have not yet achieved.

What I’d rather discuss and invite others to think about is how Obama’s decision in 2012 closely mirrors the scenario that the country, more narrowly, congress, is in right now.

Last week, President Donald Trump announced that his administration would be phasing out the program — meaning that no one new would be allowed to enter the program, and that those currently in the program would lose their protections starting March of 2018, according to However, upon the request of Trump himself, should congress be able to find a “fix” for DACA, then he would entertain approving that legislation.

In order to get to the point I’m trying to make, I’d first invite you all to wonder what DACA actually does, and what exactly would qualify as a “fix” big enough for Trump to approve of.

First off, as it stands currently, only those who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16, have lived in the U.S. since 2007 and were to be under the age of 30 when the program began in 2012, according to, are allowed to participate in the program. The main point of Obama’s order was to protect children who were brought to America under the supervision of their parents, who entered the country illegally. The program does nothing for the parents, who may be in the country illegally. It only protects the child, if he or she meets the aforementioned requirements.

Further, those who qualify for the program (known as DREAMers) are only granted protection from deportation, allowing them to get a valid state driver’s license, enroll into college and hold a job.

According to, DACA recipients do not get federal or state aid to attend college (though some states have set up a separate fund to help these students), and must find some other outside funding. Some institutions will allow the student to pay an in state tuition rate to keep costs down, but not much beyond that.

Contrary to public opinion, DACA recipients do in fact pay taxes, roughly $2 billion since the program began, according to the Institute on Taxation and Public Policy. They do this through a tax ID number given to them but the IRS when they apply for the program. While DACA recipients do pay taxes, they are not granted access to the welfare that they pay into.

DACA recipients cannot obtain insurance through the exchanges set up in the Affordable Care Act, and cannot qualify for Medicaid. While some immigrants can get plans on the exchanges based on certain conditions, the only way a DACA recipient can obtain health insurance is through his or her employer, being a spouse’s dependent or buying it on the open market, subsidy-free.

The only cost that the American people must pay for those receiving DACA, is that if him or her goes to the emergency room without insurance, causing insurance company premiums to go up, forcing citizens to pay more money for insurance…but that problem already exists when someone from any nationality ends up in a car accident and must be transported to the hospital, who also doesn’t have insurance.

No tax dollars go to funding the program, in fact, money from annual renewals for DACA — $495 per year of enrollment — adds up to nearly $400 million. This, plus the $2 billion in taxes to which he or she enrolled sees no benefits in exchange.

I say all this because I’m not quite sure what needs to be “fixed.” Obama tried to fix the problem in 2012 because Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate kept punting comprehensive immigration reform to the next congress, and so on and so forth. Republicans themselves said that immigration in the U.S. needed reform, but neither party, or some combination, could seem to figure out where to start and when. So in stepped Obama with a fix — literally “Deferred Action” — so as to figure out how to at least protect children who came to the U.S. because they were brought here by a parent. And here the country is again, five years later, undoing a temporary fix that creates a larger problem: the U.S. now has more illegal immigrants who used to pay taxes, who used to have jobs that created taxable income, and who purchased goods and services and affected the U.S. Growth Domestic Product positively.

Asking congress to fix DACA means that the congress now has to pass the landmark legislation it was supposed to do in 2012: comprehensive immigration reform, while also simultaneously reviving repeal and replace, and passing tax reform. It’s safe to say there is no fix coming from congress. Maybe that’s what Trump knew all along…