The Obama administration’s federal program that allows undocumented youth to stay and work in the United States is helping improve the financial well-being of those who are benefiting from it, according to a new survey.
About 70 percent of the nearly 1,500 undocumented youth who responded to a national online survey said they began their first job or moved to a new job once they were approved for the federal program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
About half of respondents also said DACA enabled them to be more financially independent and help their families financially. Moreover, 23 percent of respondents said they returned to school after being approved for DACA. An estimated 20 percent said they bought their first car, and 37 percent said they got their first credit card.
President Barack Obama first announced the DACA program in June 2012. A month later, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement began accepting applications for it. As of March, more than 553,000 applications for DACA were approved.
DACA is having a ‘profound impact’ on Dreamers
The survey was conducted by Tom Wong, a political science professor at the University of California in San Diego, at the request of United We Dream. Wong said in a call with reporters Tuesday that the survey shows DACA is having “a profound impact” on the lives of Dreamers benefiting from it.
“We see this not only when it comes to economic and other material gains, but also in the fact that so many of our respondents reported feeling a greater sense of belonging in the United States after they received deferred action,” he said.
According to the survey, a vast majority of respondents reported feeling a sense of belonging in the U.S. after getting approved for DACA. Many also said they are no longer afraid because of their immigration status but still worry that their undocumented family members and friends might get deported.
David Chung, a 23-year-old Dreamers from New York, told reporters Tuesday he could attest to some of the data found in the survey. He said getting approved for DACA enabled him to get a better job, buy his first car and get his first credit card.
“The deferred action program has changed my life and as the poll shows, it is working around the country as well,” said Chung, who came to the U.S. from South Korea with his family when he was 3 years old. “Everywhere, Dreamers are able to start new lives with less fear and a greater sense of belonging.”
Lessons learned form the DACA application process
The survey also shows some of the problems Dreamers faced with the initial DACA application process, which could provide some insight into how the renewal process could be like.
More than one-third of respondents said the $465 application fee delayed them from applying for the federal program. The average length of delay was three months.
Once Dreamers are able to begin renewing DACA later this summer, they will once again have to pay a $465 fee. About half of respondents said this fee will likely impose a financial hardship on themselves or their families. They suggested that $200 was a more reasonable fee.
Despite concerns about the renewal fee, the survey shows that 95 percent of Dreamers said they plan to renew DACA.
Wong said it is likely that Dreamers will seek help with the DACA renewal process just like many did when they first applied for the federal program. According to the survey, many Dreamers sought help in filling out their DACA applications at free workshops and clinics put together by community organizations.
“The same herculean effort that went into the initial DACA process should be replicated for the renewal process,” Wong said.
United We Dream was one of the organizations that stepped in to help Dreamers apply for DACA. It helped more than 21,000 Dreamers complete their applications at more than 1,000 clinics and community education events held all across the country.
“Without our field teams, some individuals may not have been able to apply for DACA at all,” Chung said.
He added that United We Dream is already gearing up to help Dreamers with the DACA renewal process.
Other key findings of the DACA survey
The survey also asked respondents to answer questions about their party identification and civic engagement. Here’s what the survey found:
- Contrary to popular perception, the vast majority of Dreamers do not consider themselves to be Democrats. Just under half of respondents said they identify as Democrats.
- An estimated 45 percent of respondents identified themselves as independent or other, while only 6 percent identified as Republican.
- The vast majority of respondents said passing immigration reform with a path to citizenship is important for whether they support the Democratic or Republican Party.
- When asked whether a path to citizenship or relief from deportation is more important, 14 percent of respondents chose a path to citizenship, 28 percent chose relief from deportation and 57 percent said both are equally important.
- Undocumented youth are highly politically and civically engaged. Forty-one percent of respondents said they participated in a political rally or demonstration, 60 percent sent a message or posted an update on social media about a political or social issue, and 66 percent signed a petition related to a political or social issue.