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Reviewing a decade of DACA
Aug 16, 2022
Episode 732

Reviewing a decade of DACA

And a decade of nothing else when it comes to immigration reform.

This year marks the 10-year anniversary of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program set up by the Obama administration. Under the program, hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants have received protection from deportation and the opportunity to officially participate in the American economy. 

It’s estimated that DACA recipients contribute more than $9 billion in federal, state and local taxes annually.

But DACA was supposed to be a temporary fix in lieu of comprehensive immigration reform. So a decade later, why is it still on shaky legal ground, and where’s the real reform?

“The dollars and cents, the costs and benefits of DACA are very clear in terms of positive impacts to individuals, families and to the broader American economy. But when we think about DACA, it is very much steeped in the broader debate over comprehensive immigration reform. And when we talk about that debate over comprehensive immigration reform, we are talking about a highly political, highly partisan and highly contentious debate over who we are as a country,” said Tom Wong, professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, and director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at the UCSD.

On the show today, we discuss how DACA has changed the economic lives of recipients, where it stands today and how it’s influencing the broader immigration debate.

In the News Fix, we’ll also discuss the promise of commercial supersonic airplanes and the economics of hearing aids.

Plus, we’ll hear from listeners about DACA, a lesson about inflation for kids and what an EV driver learned about her car.

Here’s everything we talked about today:

Have a question for the hosts? Send it our way. We’re at makemesmart@marketplace.org, or leave a voice message at 508-U-B-SMART. 

Make Me Smart August 16, 2022 transcript


Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.


Kai Ryssdal: Alright, good? Here we go. It’s so funny, I say and then we start. How about that?


Kimberly Adams: It’s magic. Hello, I’m Kimberly Adams, and welcome to Make Me Smart, where none of us is as smart as all of us.


Kai Ryssdal: It’s Tuesday – oh, I’m Kai Ryssdal. It’s Tuesday. Both of those things are true. So we’re gonna do a single topic today. And it is DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Set up as probably most of you remember or have heard in the decade or so since by the Obama administration. Thousands of undocumented young people brought here by their parents, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of them, of which about 600,000 or so are covered by DACA, which means they have received protection from deportation, and also been able to work, to participate officially and without sanction in this economy.


Kimberly Adams: Yeah. And the people eligible for these programs, that meant so much to them. The ability to get jobs without drama, the ability to go to school with a little less drama. But all these years later, this program is still on shaky legal ground, and the young immigrants who were brought to this country as children still don’t have permanent legal status. So that’s what we want to talk about today. DACA 10 years on. Its legacy and the future of immigration policy in this country.


Kai Ryssdal: The expert of choice today is Professor Tom Wong. He’s a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, also director of the US Immigration Policy Center at UCSD. Professor, thanks for coming on.


Tom Wong: Thank you for having me.


Kai Ryssdal: For those who have lost track, in which number I count myself, where is DACA right now? In the court fight, the legal fight, the political fight? What’s the status?


Tom Wong: DACA is currently being fought out in the courts. Right now, existing DACA recipients can continue to renew their status, which means temporary relief from deportation and work authorization. This is renewable every two years. But there can be no new applicants to the program. So those who were previously protected by DACA continue to be protected by DACA. But because of the legal battles, no new individuals can apply for DACA. And after the Fifth Circuit’s rules, there may no longer be any DACA for anybody. So DACA recipients across the country and immigration rights and justice advocates are really on pins and needles when it comes to the legal fate of DACA.


Kimberly Adams: You know, we kind of gave this big picture overview at the top of protections under DACA, and being able to be involved in the economy and go to school and things. But specifically, what did DACA do?


Tom Wong: Yes, so for a group of undocumented young people, so there were certain requirements that needed to be met. They were given temporary relief from deportation. So effectively non-deportable. And also given a work authorization so that the DACA recipients could fully engage in the American workforce. They could apply for jobs, they could apply their education to their career of choice. It transitioned a group of undocumented young people from being in the shadows to being almost fully fledged members of American society.


Kai Ryssdal: It’s about as we said, 600,000 or so people. The American labor force is 65 million give or take. I don’t want to be that guy, but the economic impact of this individually for them is, of course, enormous. What does it mean for the American economy as a whole, do you think?


Tom Wong: When we think about the impact of DACA, we do kind of first start with the individual recipients. So when we think about DACA recipients, me along with team members at the Center for American Progress, United We Dream and National Immigration Law Center, we have been serving DACA recipients for almost the span of the program, so almost a decade now. So when we think about the individual recipients, we see in our most recent survey in 2021, that nearly half moved to a job with better pay, over a third move to a job with better working conditions. Importantly, nearly a third moved to a job that better fits their education and training. And so you can imagine a time before DACA, when DACA recipients could go to school but without work authorization, could not fully participate in the labor force. Similarly, we see over one third moving to a job that quotes better fits their long-term career goals. But to your question on the broader economy, we are also learning that DACA recipients are making substantial footprints in the American economy. So when we think about the requirements for DACA, we asked DACA recipients to essentially be better than the average American, when it came to criminal records, when it came to education. We asked DACA recipients to essentially do more, and part of that “do more” was to get an education. And so we’re talking about a highly educated cohort of undocumented young people, because in order to have DACA, education was part of that exchange for temporary relief from deportation and work authorization. So when we think about these DACA recipients, we can imagine this cohort of young professionals who are applying their education, who are just beginning to hit their strides in their careers, and are making a bigger economic footprint. So for example, roughly half of DACA recipients reported buying their first cars after receiving DACA. So even though DACA recipients may be a small part of the broader American workforce, when you have this exogenous shock of nearly 800,000 people, half of whom are buying their first car, because they’re able to transition from being undocumented to getting a job that benefits their education and training, then we’re talking about reverberations across the economy. We know the derivative benefits of car buying, for example, in terms of maintenance, upkeep, registration, and title fees also, bring revenues to states. But we’re also seeing that DACA recipients are increasingly purchasing their first homes. So when we think about DACA, it’s no longer a cohort of undocumented young people in the sense that we’re talking about high school and college students. The average age of DACA recipients now is getting close to 30. And so again, hitting their strides in their lives and their careers. And so we see that roughly 16% have purchased their first homes since receiving DACA. So we also know that homeownership has a lot of derivative benefits across the economy. So with DACA, we are seeing individual benefits, accrue to DACA recipients, to their families, but also as DACA recipients are making larger footprints, especially as consumers, and that’s how we can quantify at least – one way we can quantify a broader impact on the American economy.


Kimberly Adams: So that’s a really good overview of sort of what DACA has meant for the actual recipients. But this policy, as helpful as it’s been for that very relatively small group, this wasn’t supposed to be the fix. This was rolled out as a temporary solution for our lack of immigration policy. And yet a decade later, we still don’t have comprehensive immigration reform. Why do you think we haven’t managed to find a solution beyond DACA?


Tom Wong: That’s a great question. So when we think about the broader immigration debate, we estimate that DACA recipients contribute a combined $9.4 billion in federal state and local taxes annually. The dollars and cents, the costs and benefits of DACA are very clear in terms of positive impacts to individuals, families and to the broader American economy. But when we think about DACA, it is very much steeped in the broader debate over comprehensive immigration reform. And when we talk about that debate over comprehensive immigration reform, we are talking about a highly political, highly partisan, highly contentious debate over who we are as a country. So when we imagine DACA we go back to 2012. And this is before the presidential election, the then Obama administration announced DACA as a way to essentially make a down payment on broader comprehensive immigration reform, post November 2012 presidential election. There was some momentum after that election. So in 2013, we have a comprehensive immigration reform bill passed the Senate. It ultimately died in the House. But what we see in that debate over the 2013 bill, and the evolution of that debate to present is that, even though DACA recipients are generally viewed as a sympathetic group of undocumented immigrants, they are still undocumented. And so for some, in this political debate, there are clear hard lines against providing legal status to any group of undocumented immigrant, no matter how sympathetic they may be. And for DACA recipients, as Kai mentioned at the outset, these are undocumented young people who were brought to the country through no fault of their own, they were brought at a young age by their parents. So even though this sympathetic class of undocumented immigrants has broad support among the American public when it comes to polling that shows support for something like DREAM Act legislation, which would provide legal status for undocumented young people, decision makers, when it comes to 218 votes in the House, or 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a filibuster. There aren’t enough votes to even give this group a permanent legislative solution. The ideological lines in the sand that are drawn over immigration, and regarding the legal status of undocumented immigrants, more specifically, those ideological lines in the sand are almost impenetrable. Now, when we look at voting behavior among members of Congress, and so DACA recipients find themselves very much sort of trapped within that broader political, partisan, and ideological divides.


Kai Ryssdal: So look, as the expert in the room on this topic in this conversation, you’ve obviously thought a lot more about this than Kimberly and I have, what is the solution? What’s the way out, because I don’t want to sound dramatic here, but it is kind of dramatic. Lives literally hang in the balance.


Tom Wong: Lives do hang in the balance. And we have actually embedded survey experiments in some of our questionnaires to gauge how much life would be different if DACA recipients no longer were protected from deportation and had work authorization. And we are talking about, literally, you know, being in the shadows, coming out of the shadows, and potentially having to go back in the shadows. So definitely lives hang in the balance, and livelihoods also hanging in the balance. I think one solution moving forward is to uncouple DACA and the DREAM Act from other aspects of comprehensive immigration reform. So when we think about that 2013 Senate bill, we were talking about legal status for undocumented immigrants, we’re talking about interior immigration enforcement, we were talking about border legislation, and we were essentially wrapping all of that together in one big piece of legislation. So when that happens, then all of a sudden, the support there may have been for legal status for DACA recipients may no longer be there, as soon as the conversation shifts to something like increased border patrol, personnel, or funding. And so if there were a standalone bill on legal status for undocumented young people and for DACA recipients, there very much seems to be a pathway to 218 votes in the House and 60 votes in the Senate. But the ability to decouple and focus on discrete aspects of the immigration reform debate, there are some leaders in Congress who do not want that to happen, because they know that by including those more contentious aspects, then they can essentially maintain the status quo. So in other words, there are some among GOP leadership that won’t move forward. For example, Mitch McConnell, won’t move forward on standalone immigration bills, if there is something to be discussed on legal status for undocumented immigrants. Then certain members, especially in the Senate chamber also want to talk border security, also wants to talk interior immigration enforcement. And over the past 30 years now, since the last comprehensive immigration reform bill, all of that seems to be strategy. It seems to be a matter of design to maintain the status quo, which is inaction on immigration related legislation.  So I was gonna do a little kicker here by asking whether or not you’re hopeful, but it sort of sounds like you’re not. I’m not hopeful. I mean, when it comes to the work that I’ve done, modeling how members of Congress are likely to vote on different aspects of immigration related legislation, unless we are able to get a vote on a standalone bill, the second that you start putting in other things, support for DREAM Act legislation, for example, wanes. And so we get further away from that 60 vote threshold. Of course, one option is to do away with the filibuster and make it 50 plus one. But there it’s not a GOP story. There’s a democratic story that’s out there. Yes. Exactly.


Kai Ryssdal: That’s harder than the standalone bill. Right. I mean, that’s…


Tom Wong: Exactly, exactly. And that implicates Democrats. So it’s not just GOP. So there is a solution for Democrats that, but it’s one of these sort of nuclear options that Democrats aren’t willing to move on.


Kai Ryssdal: Tom Wong is a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego. Also, he runs the US Immigration Policy Center at UCSD. Professor, thanks for your time and your expertise. I learned a bunch. It’s depressing as hell. But I did learn a bunch.


Tom Wong: Oh, thank you for having me.


Kai Ryssdal: Take care. Yeah, there ain’t no answer. The way it is, right, I mean.


Kimberly Adams: You know, I’m kind of, I’m kind of bummed that this like ended on such a down note. Because all of last week, it was like, look, Congress is actually doing stuff. Congress is actually doing stuff. I’m like, when Kai gets back, I can be like, Look, Congress is actually getting stuff done. And you get back, it’s like, but this one really huge thing that they have needed to do for a decade. Still no logical path to a solution. Which sucks, especially for you know, the people in this situation, but also, you know, not to be cold hearted about it, but for the larger economy. Because people have been – let me say in a nicer away – griping and moaning for the last year about not having enough people to do various jobs in the labor force. And immigration is a natural way to fix that problem. And yet, you know, there’s still such resistance to it. And that’s – it’s not really confusing for me, like I get the arguments, but it’s illogical to me.


Kai Ryssdal: And infuriating. Anyway.


Kimberly Adams: Anyway, tell us what you think. If you are a DACA recipient, let us know. I’m curious how old you are. Because this whole timeline thing has me very curious, because we keep talking about young people. But you know, young is in the eye of the beholder, I guess. But I do feel like there’s this image of sort of college students and teenagers when, you know, I was reading one of the articles that Marissa gave us to prep for this interview, and they were talking to a DACA recipient who was in, you know, her mid- to late 30s. But she was a grandma, you know, at this point. So anyway, if you’re a DACA recipient, let us know what does the policy mean to you. If you have thoughts about the policy and the program in general, our number is 508-827-6278, also known as 508-U-B-SMART. You can also send us a voice memo makemesmart@marketplace.org And we will be right back.


Kimberly Adams: Okay, and we are back. So now it is time for the news fix. Kai, why don’t you go first?


Kai Ryssdal: There is a piece in Bloomberg today – actually it’s not just Bloomberg, it’s, you know, the announcement was made publicly so everybody had it, but the link I put it is in Bloomberg. American Airlines is betting huge on the future. And it is not a small gamble. They are betting on a company being able to make supersonic airplanes for commercial aviation, which if you know anything about commercial aviation, you know hasn’t been happening since the Concorde went away. And that, of course, was an enormous, enormous money pit for the airlines that ran it. Anyway. So American Airlines is buying 20…


Kimberly Adams: Actually, can I stop you for a second? Because a lot of people I don’t think remember, like I have vague memories of the Concorde stuff.


Kai Ryssdal: Seriously? How old am I.


Kimberly Adams: I’m not going to make an answer to that question. But I do remember like hearing the sonic booms because I grew up relatively close to an Air Force base. And so you know, you’d hear the sonic booms from like Air Force jets, but like the Concorde was supposed to be like the super fancy thing going from New York to London and everything like that. But there is a whole generation of people who have not been around, or at least not in the traveling sphere, when supersonic flight for commercial aviation was the thing. So I do think it’s worth kind of laying out the premise.


Kai Ryssdal: A very quick primer on the Concorde. So there was a transatlantic competition in the 60s and 70s to build a supersonic airliner, right, that would cut in half, or maybe a little bit less actually, the time it took to get from London to New York. Or by extension in today’s era, from Los Angeles to Tokyo, right. The Brits won. It was a French-English Consortium. So it was a plane flown by British Airways and Air France, they would came to be called the Concorde. The American version was called the SST, the supersonic transport. You’ve surely seen pictures of them, long, skinny, with a nose that drooped for landings so that the pilots could see the actual runway. And it was amazing, and incredible, and outrageously expensive. And yet lost those companies billions of dollars, because it was so expensive to operate. And you could only fit – I mean, it was a teeny tiny little interior cabin, right? It was two tiny seats on each aisle in a really narrow cabin, because it had to carry a lot of gas and giant engines and all that jazz. You didn’t even get like first class seating, right? You got like consumer seats, like regular economy class seats, but you only had to spend three hours in it, which was the deal right, to get from New York to Tokyo. And depending on which way you’re going, you could actually land before you took off, if you follow the timezone change and all that. Anyway, it flew up because it was a symbol of national prestige. Until in the early 90s, there was a horrible accident in France, where one of the planes cut a tire on takeoff, that cut tire got ingested into the engine. And then I’m sure you’ve seen – well, I keep saying I’m sure – if you look at the pictures, you will see this plane taking off with flame coming out of either both or maybe just one side of the plane – anyway, I can’t remember – blew up hundreds of people, killed hundred and like ten-ish people killed. And that was it. The airline scrapped. So now with a new generation of technology, right, I mean, let’s remember that the Concorde, which flew in the 90s, was 60s and 70s technology. There’s new technology now, that can in theory make this work. And so American Airlines has become the first big legacy airline, in fact, the first airline at all, to order from this company, a new kind of supersonic jet, which would be a very, very, very big deal. The catch is that this plane has not yet been built. So American Airlines is betting on the future, it’s going to be a decade. I just think it’s really cool.


Kimberly Adams: I would be very happy to see the return of supersonic flight. I went on a family vacation to Australia in 2010. And going from Washington, DC, to Los Angeles, to Australia, like, as beautiful as the country was, I’m like, I’m never going back. Like I just, it was brutal. It was just absolutely brutal. And I would feel completely differently if that was, you know, a six-hour flight instead of a 28-hour flight or whatever it was. And I think that will make a big difference. Now, that would have been even worse with the spread of COVID in the world, but you know, what else? All right.


Kai Ryssdal: So there you go. That’s my aviation news fix.


Kimberly Adams: Exciting. Well, from very, very big technology to very, very small technology, there’s been – the story that’s been kind of bubbling in the background of healthcare for, I’m gonna say like a year, year and a half now, where the federal government has been pushing to allow over-the-counter hearing aids. And now the FDA has finally given approval for the sale of over-the-counter hearing aids, and people could start buying these things as soon as October – October or the fall. And if you think about how much technology is in your air pods, or whatever Bluetooth headset of your desire, like it’s, it’s a very advanced technology, probably very similar to a lot of the technology and hearing aids. But hearing aids are a health device, and subject to all these different regulations. So somebody might be paying four grand, often out of pocket for a hearing aid, when really, they might just need a little amplification. And so, the easiest comparison I’ve heard about this is, you know, you can go and get a prescription for reading glasses and pay hundreds of dollars for your frame, whatever amount for your eye exam and whatever amount for your prescription. Or you can go to the corner pharmacy and pick up some readers for five or ten bucks. And depending on what your vision needs are, that may do it for you. And so for people who maybe don’t have super complicated hearing concerns, being able to buy this over the counter at what’s undeniably going to be a significantly lower cost is going to be pretty life changing for some people, especially because hearing aids are not covered by Medicare. And this has been one of the things that people have been trying to get Medicare to cover hearing aids and dental care over the years, and it hasn’t been able to sort of push its way through. But by allowing hearing aids to be purchased over the counter, and likely at much lower cost, it kind of eliminates some of that pressure on Medicare to include that coverage. So rather than getting Medicare to cover your $4,000 hearing aid, now you’re potentially getting, you know, it’s still paying out of pocket, but maybe you’re paying a couple hundred bucks. Now I’m sure there’s gonna be a lot of rules and a lot of labeling, and I’m sure there’s going to be limited use cases and there’s still going to be people who need really expensive hearing aids. But it’s a pretty big deal for people who suffer from some kind of hearing loss, which is eventually going to be all of us to some extent, especially those of us in radio. Oh boy.


Kai Ryssdal: Oi oi oi. All right. onward we go, yes?


Kimberly Adams: Yes to the mailbag.


Kai Ryssdal: Alright, so we have been asking for your DACA stories, if you got them. Here is one Victor in Chicago.


Victor: I was born in Tijuana, Mexico and raised in California since I was one. Prior to DACA, the most basic functions of living in the US were a struggle. I lived in fear of being deported. I wasn’t able to legally work. So I was limited in my employment options, which made it difficult to pay for school and support my family. Getting DACA brought stability and relief to my life. I was able to start building a career, become a homeowner, provide for my family, give back to my community by serving on nonprofit boards, and build the company that’s created hundreds of jobs throughout the Midwest. The current instability surrounding DACA and lack of permanent solution is not only a source of stress for the nearly 600,000 DACA recipients, but also for the communities we’re a part of.


Kai Ryssdal: Yeah, that’s exactly what Professor Wong was talking about. It is also – to the point of your question to him about this, it’s a failure of regulation and law. Right? I mean, it just is.


Kimberly Adams: Oh, and Marissa just messaged me that Victor’s 34 for the record. All right. So here’s a voice memo we got after our recent deep dive on inflation.


Christian: Hi, Make Me Smart team. This is Christian in Kansas City, Missouri. I do want to share my one silver lining that inflation has helped with, and that is educating my daughter that money is not unlimited. It has helped me in store be able to stop her and say, you know, things are getting more expensive. Do you really need the brand name box of crackers? Or do you really need that box of ice cream treats or is there something else we can get? And I encourage other parents out there to use inflation as a chance to maybe ask your child, do they understand how money works?


Kimberly Adams: Yes, and I’ll use this as an opportunity to point to the episode on Million Brazilian about inflation, which is a kids’ podcast. When my niece and nephew were in town, I was having them listen to it. And you know, they were mainly on their phones, but then I got a couple questions about it later. So I think it was like seeping into the subconscious. All right, before we go, we’re going to leave you with this week’s answer to the make me smart question, which is what is something you thought you knew, but you later found out you’re wrong about?


Kai Ryssdal: Amen.


Susana: Hi, this is Susana from Cathedral City, California. As I drive to work in my wonderful electric vehicle, I always thought that electric vehicles were built to be lighter to get longer range. But after being told yesterday that I have to replace all four my tires, after not even getting 30,000 miles on my car, I was told this was the case because my car is heavier. And in some cases, you can maybe only get up to 10,000 miles on your tires. Thank you for everything you do. Bye.


Kimberly Adams: Battery.


Kai Ryssdal: Yeah, that’s exactly right. They’re heavy because those batteries weigh a ton. I don’t know about specific numbers on this one, but it stands to reason, for sure.


Kimberly Adams: Yeah, and they wear differently also. So you still have like, you know, different – you still have stuff in the front, but like at least when I had my hybrid vehicle, I know it’s not an electric vehicle, but like you still had the gas engine in the front and all the way there, but then you had this giant heavy battery in the back also. So, you know. All the things.


Kai Ryssdal: All the things. You can send us your answers to all the things but also the make me smart question via voice memo to our email makemesmart@marketplace.org. Leave us a regular old message at 508-827-6278, 508-U-B-SMART is another way to do that.


Kimberly Adams: Make Me Smart is directed and produced by Marissa Cabrera. Our intern is Olivia Zhao. Ellen Rolfes writes our newsletter. And today’s program was engineered by Jayk Cherry, with mixing by Mingxin Qiguan and Ben Tolliday and Daniel Ramirez composed our theme music.


Kai Ryssdal: Bridget Bodnar is the Senior Producer of this podcast. Donna Tam is the Director of On Demand. Francesca levy is the Executive Director of Digital, and Marketplace’s Vice President and General Manager is Neil Scarborough.


Kimberly Adams: I’m sorry if I made you feel old with all that.


Kai Ryssdal: No, it’s me making myself feel old.


Kimberly Adams: I think the only thing some people know is Flight of the Conchords.


Kai Ryssdal: Yeah, that could be.

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