2017-11-10 / Opinion

Our Country Needs the Dream Act of 2017

Guest Column
BY DAVID VAIL and BETH STICKNEY

The United States is on the brink of a colossal mistake, unless Congress quickly passes the Dream Act of 2017, reversing the effects of the recent rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Otherwise, beginning March 6, 2018, each day approximately 1400 of nearly 800,000 DACA holders nationwide will lose their legal status and their ability to pursue higher education, military service, or work. These people are part of us; they arrived while still children and have grown up here. For many, the U.S. is the only home they can remember. An estimated several hundred of these young adults live in Maine and are vital members of our communities, schools, and our current and future labor supply.

It is no secret that Maine faces an aging and retiring workforce. Employers are having increasing difficulty recruiting qualified workers as the state’s unemployment rate has remained below four percent for two years now. Maine’s problem isn’t too many people looking for work, but rather too few qualified people to fill the jobs available. This problem will only get worse as more Mainers retire in the coming years.

Immigrants from around the globe represent a growing segment of Maine’s population and a critical source of ability and effort needed to replace Maine’s aging workforce. Immigrants are growing Maine’s economy through their work effort, tax-base expansion, increased demand for goods and services, and business creation. They also make Maine more culturally vibrant, helping the State attract new arrivals from other states who seek Maine’s quality of life but also want to live in diverse communities.

DACA immigrants are already integrated into U.S. society, having lived here for at least ten and as many as thirty-four years. In Maine, they are students, entrepreneurs, employees and volunteers, working in areas as diverse as STEM professions, construction, shipbuilding, health care, and farming. Nationwide, over 90% of DACA holders are employed, often while also going to school. Those not working are typically full-time students in high school or higher education. Despite being ineligible for federal financial aid, 72% of DACA students are pursuing bachelor or higher degrees, including at Maine’s private colleges and public universities.

A recent nationwide survey of over 3000 DACA holders found that since gaining legal status through DACA, their wages have increased on average by 69 percent. Sixty-five percent of the respondents purchased their first car and 24 percent of those older than 25 bought their first home. Eight percent of respondents over 25 had started their own businesses, outpacing the national rate of 3.1 percent.

The costs to our economy if Congress fails to create a path to permanent residency for DACA holders are enormous. According to the conservative CATO Institute, over the coming decade, the U.S. will experience an estimated $460.3 billion drop in the Gross Domestic Product and $60 billion in lost federal tax revenues, including contributions to Social Security and Medicare. Moreover, finding replacements for the approximately 720,000 DACA holders forced to exit the workforce as they begin losing their legal status and work authorization in March 2018 will cost U.S. employers a projected $6.3 billion.

To continue to move forward, Maine needs a diverse population. DACA holders are typically bilingual, but also fully assimilated, having grown up here. Making sure that Maine’s several hundred DACA holders don’t lose their legal status will create valuable opportunities for Maine’s future, strengthening our communities and improving the State’s ability to compete and do business with the rest of the world.

We urge Maine’s Congressional delegation to give DACA holders a path to permanent residency by passing the Dream Act of 2017 before the end of this year, so that not one DACA holder will lose legal status beginning on March 6, 2018. Failure to do so would be both cruel to them and an economic mistake for Maine and the United States.

David Vail is Bowdoin College economics professor emeritus and chair of the Coastal Enterprises, Inc. board policy committee. Beth Stickney is Director of the Maine Business Immigration Coalition.

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