Study seeks to show how DACA impacts the lives of Dreamers

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Bolivian Diego Mariaca gets help filling out his DACA application.

Bolivian Diego Mariaca (center) attended a community event on Aug. 15, 2012 with his mother Ingrid Vaca (right) to receive help filling out his application for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows undocumented youth to stay and work in the U.S. (Getty Images/Paul J. Richards)

It’s been more than a year since the Obama administration announced that undocumented youth who came to the United States as children would be allowed to stay and work temporarily under the new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Now, a team of researchers is working to figure out what sort of impact the federal program — also known as DACA — is having on the lives of undocumented young adults. They plan to spend a total of five years studying this through the National UnDACAmented Research Project.

“The five-year study will help us understand the effects of wide access through DACA,” said Roberto Gonzales, a professor at Harvard University who is leading the team of researchers. “It gives us an opportunity to see how giving work permits, jobs and driver’s licenses to some undocumented young people across the country has positively impacted their lives.”

President Barack Obama unveiled the DACA program in June 2012. Two months later, undocumented young immigrants were able to begin applying for the program. The latest statistics show that nearly half a million undocumented young immigrants between the ages of 15 to 30 years old have been approved for DACA.

The federal program allows undocumented youth to remain in the U.S. without fear of deportation and apply for work permits. In most states, DACA recipients are also able to apply for driver’s licenses.

Survey looks at how DACA affects the lives of Dreamers

Gonzales, who has spent the last decade studying the lives of undocumented youth, said the National UnDACAmented Research Project is divided into a number of phases.

The first phase of the study focuses on a national survey looking at how the DACA program affects the lives of undocumented youth between the ages of 18 to 31. The survey asks participants a series of questions related to their education, work, health and civic engagement.

“The survey provides us the opportunity to get some data … so that we can better understand what are some of the trends among this population of young adults,” Gonzales said.

The last day to complete the survey was Tuesday. Gonzales estimated that about 3,000 people filled it out.

This bar graph shows the economic and social incorporation of Dreamers since receiving DACA. (Courtesy of Roberto Gonzales)

The economic and social incorporation of Dreamers since getting DACA. (Credit: Roberto Gonzales)

The findings of the survey won’t be released until mid 2014. In the meantime, Gonzales said the results of another survey he conducted last year offer a prediction of what the latest survey findings could look like. He said last year’s survey results “presented the picture of the immediate and tangible facts on the benefits of DACA.”

The survey shows that DACA recipients have experienced a significant increase in economic opportunities, such as getting a new job, opening a bank account, obtaining a credit card or getting a driver’s license.

However, a majority of DACA recipients still live in fear of seeing family members or friends get deported. Many of them know at least someone who has already been deported.

“Overall, our research indicates that although DACA opens up some economic opportunities for young aspiring Americans, it does not address the constant threat of deportation still facing those closest to them, including mothers, fathers, and siblings,” Gonzales wrote in a report summarizing the survey findings.

A deeper look into the lives of Dreamers after DACA

The second phase of the five-year-long National UnDACAmented Research Project entails taking a deeper look into the lives of Dreamers by conducting  in-depth interviews in a handful of states, including Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New York, Illinois and Texas.

Gonzales and his team plan to interview target groups of undocumented immigrants over the course of several years. Among the target groups are DACA recipients as well as those who haven’t applied for the federal program.

Itzel Guillén organizes her DACA application.

Itzel Guillén (left) organizes her DACA application alongside Lucero Maganda. (AP photo/Gregory Bull)

Interviews will also be conducted of undocumented youth who haven’t gone to college. In recent years, the Dreamers movement has mainly focused on high-achieving undocumented youth with college degrees.

“Those are really impressive stories, but that’s not the common story for undocumented youth across the country,” Gonzales told VOXXI, referring to Dreamers with college degrees. “The reality is that only a minority makes it to college. Many others who start college end up stopping because of financial reasons, family needs or other reasons.”

He added that the end goal of National UnDACAmented Research Project is to “produce data-drive results” that will paint a picture of the general population of Dreamers. He also said the goal is to encourage policymakers to craft “good policy” benefiting this population of undocumented immigrants.

“We’ve heard stories over the last years of Dreamers, but now we want to back this up with numbers and data,” he said. “I think that’s what’s needed. That’s what we haven’t been able to do until now.”

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