On Tuesday, Chief of Staff John Kelly told press that immigrant youth who didn’t apply to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program were either “too afraid” or “were too lazy to get off their asses.” With just a few words, he minimized our fear and failed to recognize that for some DACA-eligible immigrants, many factors made applying to the program difficult or impossible.
DACA offers a work permit and defers deportation, but attaining this status comes with extensive requirements, meaning that many young immigrants were eligible to receive the protection. Undocumented immigrants who applied had to arrive before they were 16 years old, been under the age of 31 on June 15, 2012, have lived in the US continuously since June 15, 2007, and have documentation to prove it all. They also had to be working toward a high school diploma or GED and go through an exhaustive background check. Does having turned 31 the day before – and therefore aging out – qualify you as lazy?
Or how about not being able to afford the $495 filing fee? Between the application and biometrics fees, those who applied for the program had to pay nearly $500 for the application, which needs to be renewed every two years.
Or does being afraid make you lazy? Imagine growing up fearing deportations and the separation of your family. Or being told “no le digas a nadie” that you are undocumented your entire life. Coming out of the shadows means giving your information – including your address – to the government, essentially putting the undocumented people in your life at risk of deportation. Worse, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was asking you to not only do that, but prove where you have been since 2007. Applicants needed to show current and past residences, school records, and provide information about how you arrived into the United States.
Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) has employed manipulative tactics to deport our families – not only before DACA but up until now. ICE agents have historically lied, deceived, and even pushed their own agendas. All of the information the government asked of DACA applicants come from the same umbrella of people who have caused so much harm to our communities. Yet, we were asked to hand over our information in good faith, trusting that if we did, nothing would happen to us.
But all that Kelly’s comments do is to further promote the “lazy immigrant” narrative, despite the fact that research proves otherwise. The largest study to be done on DACA recipients up to date found that “after receiving DACA, 69 percent of respondents reported moving to a job with better pay” and “56 percent moved to a job with better working conditions.” Having DACA alone gave young people an opportunity to move forward and no longer have to work under the table. The same 2017 study found that 65 percent purchased their first car and 16 percent purchased their first home after receiving DACA. Removing DACA recipients from the workforce would alone cause a $460.3 billion loss from the national GDP through the next 10 years.
However, it’s not just DACA recipients who contribute to the economy. The Center for American Progress also estimates that $434.4 billion would be lost in annual GDP if all undocumented immigrant workers were removed. That means those “lazy” immigrants who didn’t apply to the program are still working to provide for their families – and this is in spite of the fact that the government makes it nearly impossible for them to thrive.
As a DACA recipient, I have been able to buy my first car and obtain a full-time job. I saved enough money to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in 2017. But I didn’t apply to DACA program for several months after it was implemented because I was afraid. Once I understood it was safe, I applied. Not all of my fellow undocumented friends were as lucky. But as they have taught me, when it comes to DACA, the only thing that’s lazy is John Kelly’s logic.