If in an imaginary pandemic-stricken country had a group of extraordinary people which had made fundamental contributions to the economy, public health, or the school system, one would think they would be treated as heroes of the modern age.
In the United States, hundreds of thousands of recipients of DACA, the childhood arrivals program, our celebrated “Dreamers,” did just that. They did it as essential workers in hospitals, clinics and emergency services. They did it in essential jobs like agriculture, meatpacking, supermarkets and construction. They did it every day, at the risk of their own health and life.
A new survey by the progressive Center for American Progress (CAP) offers us an essential x-ray of how American society has treated these unsung heroes. But it also presents us with something more important: how they see their daily reality, their fears and sacrifices, but also their dreams and aspirations.
DACA made it possible for about four out of 10 “Dreamers” to move to a job with better pay, better working conditions and benefits, more appropriate for the type of education they received or more aligned with their professional expectations. The figures do not reflect the complete reality: the percentages are lower than those recorded before the pandemic. Younger Dreamers felt the biggest hit, much like the rest of the population their age, which was hit by unemployment and pay cuts.
But despite the adverse circumstances caused by the pandemic, many of these Dreamers were able to buy their first car or their first house, although some of them, like the rest of the population, reported difficulties paying the mortgage during the pandemic. Nearly four in 10 had trouble paying their rent and nearly one in 10 was even threatened with foreclosure.
Perhaps the most worrying piece of data from the survey, however, is somewhat invisible: an overwhelming 91% of Dreamers reported concern for the physical safety of themselves or their families; the possibility of accessing health insurance or education, food security and the risk of losing their homes in case of being deported to their countries of origin.
Four in 10 stated that every day they wake up thinking that they could be detained, sent to an immigration detention center or deported from the United States. An even higher percentage of almost 50% responded that they are always afraid of the detention or deportation of one of their loved ones. Seven out of 10 Dreamers who are parents think every day about the possibility of being separated from their children.
There is no doubt that DACA has been a successful public policy and has protected more than 800,000 people from deportation. But the survey clearly shows that this is a half-hearted policy and not a definitive solution. The White House and Congress have the unfinished business of completing their work and approving a legal solution that offers these extraordinary heroes the certainty, dignity and humane treatment they deserve.