The issue of "Dreamers" — children who were brought to the United States as children by undocumented parents, and many of whom are now young adults — has been hotly debated, with many of the arguments based on emotion. But economics is increasingly looming as a major issue in the debate.
Dreamers have been allowed to remain in the United States without threat of deportation since 2012 under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. This is conditional on them staying out of trouble with the law and either being in school, completing high school (or a GED) or being honorably discharged from the military.
The emotional argument for allowing these young people to stay is compelling — they often know no country other than the United States. But there is also an economic component that economists and local and state officials are becoming increasingly concerned about.
Taxpayers have invested in these young people's growth and education. The DACA youth repay this by contributing to America by working, paying taxes and creating jobs.
So when the Trump administration announced on Sept. 5 that it would rescind DACA, leaving it to Congress to determine the Dreamers' fate, concerns arose among financial experts and economists across the country.
It's not just that U.S. taxpayers have invested in the education of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers. Also to be considered is what those Dreamers are contributing in return, and will be contributing in the future.
In Oregon alone, about 9,800 workers could be affected, according to the nonprofit Center for American Progress, resulting in a hit to the state's economy of $600 million per year.
Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read is sufficiently worried that he joined his fellow state treasurers and other state and civic public finance leaders last week in asking Congress and the Trump administration to support a no-strings-attached Dream Act.
"Without a course correction ... it will hurt our economy, impair labor markets, dampen profitability of key industries, and erode local tax bases," Read said.
Many economists have debunked the notion that Dreamers are taking jobs away from Americans, including Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, who told National Public Radio there is no evidence to support this and called repeal of DACA "particularly wrongheaded as economic policy."
What Dreamers actually do is create more jobs — as consumers, as employees and in some cases as employers, many economists agree. They pay an estimated $2 billion a year in taxes, including income, property, sales and excise taxes. In Oregon alone, they pay about $20 million per year in state and local taxes, according to the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy. They also are helping to keep Social Security afloat, with the money they pay in going to fund current Social Security checks.
All of this needs to factor into the discussion of DACA. For every day that passes without DACA renewals, Read and others said, effects are already being felt — in measurable decreases in consumer spending, in tax receipts and in Dreamers who lose their jobs and leave. It's not too late to stop this economic drain, which will only accelerate if nothing is done.