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Deporting Young Immigrants Only Hurts America

Without Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, California alone could lose $11.2 billion in revenue each year.

As President-elect Donald Trump nears his first day in office, thousands of young undocumented immigrants in the United States are bracing for what will happen next. Trump has pledged to revoke a number of President Obama's immigration policies, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which granted work permits and temporary deportation relief to immigrants brought into the country under age 16. And while Trump has flip-flopped on what to do about DACA, Jeff Sessions, Trump's pick for attorney general, made it clear at a nomination hearing that he "would have no objection to a decision to abandon that order."

But if Trump terminates the program, it won't just impact the immigrant population—some 750,000 undocumented young people who have earned college degrees, joined the workforce, and enjoyed deportation relief as a result of DACA. Dismantling the program could also deal a significant blow to the US economy.

Ending DACA could decrease the national GDP by $433.4 billion over the next decade, particularly wounding states with the largest immigrant populations, according to a new report by the progressive think tank Center for American Progress (CAP), published this week.

"DACA has been such a significant life-changing policy for its recipients, and states and communities will feel the brunt of losing these workers," Silva Mathema, a senior policy analyst on immigration for CAP, told me.

About 87 percent of DACA recipients are currently employed, according to a CAP survey from last fall. The new report calculates what would happen if they all had to leave those jobs. Mathema told me CAP made their calculations based on a previous study on the economic cost of losing unauthorized workers, and the estimated impact of removing DACA "could be an underestimate," since DACA recipients tend to make higher wages than unauthorized workers.

"If you prohibit people from working on the books in jobs they're qualified for, those restrictions on the economy are going to reduce earnings and taxes paid by those workers."—David Kallick

If DACA recipients had to completely stop working, immigrant-saturated states would be hit the hardest. California, which is home to approximately 188,000 DACA workers, would lose $11.2 billion in revenue each year. Texas, with about 105,000 DACA workers, would lose $6.1 billion. New York, with about 33,000 DACA employees, would lose about $2.3 billion annually, according to estimates from the CAP report.

David Kallick, the director of the Immigration Research Initiative for the Fiscal Policy Institute, called the CAP study "very methodologically sound" but said there were "so many questions at this point" about the future administration's policy. For now, it's not clear how Trump will change immigration policy in the country or if a policy like DACA would be the first on the chopping block.

If Trump does overturn Obama's executive action, Kallick said, many DACA recipients may indeed continue to work—just without permits, and often in jobs for which they are overqualified.

"Some people might be pushed out of the labor force altogether, while some people might go back into lower-wage jobs and lower-economic-output jobs," Kallick told me. "DACA has allowed people to go to college and to advance in jobs in which they could be promoted. If you prohibit people from working on the books in jobs they're qualified for, those restrictions on the economy are going to reduce earnings and taxes paid by those workers."

That's not only a problem for the US economy at-large, but for the individual businesses that currently employ DACA workers.

"The businesses are hiring [DACA recipients] because they're qualified workers doing a good job, and if you go to businesses saying you have to fire workers who are good employees for you, that's going to be not popular for the businesses," Kallick explained. "It doesn't put into effective use the resources that are around you."

While the new CAP report spelled out what would happen if all DACA recipients were pushed out of the workforce, Daniel Costa, the director for Immigration Law and Policy Research for the Economic Policy Institute, pointed out that this would only happen if Trump enforced his early campaign promise to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants. More recently, Trump has backtracked and stated that he will instead focus deportations on individuals with criminal records.

"If people are able to get DACA, they have to have relatively clean criminal records and have lived in the country for years, so they're the lowest priorities for deportation even under a Trump administration," Costa told me. "This means they'll probably stay around for a while and will have to work, so they'll have to go to the black market to find work that doesn't require documentation. A lot have gotten college degrees, and they'll be underutilized in labor markets and more susceptible to exploitation."

For longtime US residents like Greisa Martinez, an organizer with the immigrant youth organization United We DREAM, DACA was the path out of such exploitation.

"Before DACA, I was selling used cars in Dallas, earning $300 a week trying to get by and support my family," said Martinez, 28, who came to the US as a seven-year-old and is undocumented. "I know plenty people who used to serve food in fast-food restaurants and are now nurses in hospitals throughout the United States."

While ending DACA would certainly strip people like Martinez of opportunities, Steven Camarota, the director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think tank, told me the impact could be positive for native-born residents.

"If someone is illegally in this country and has to leave, what's the impact on the native born? Do their incomes go up? By itself, it's not a benefit to increase the GDP," Camarota said, claiming that ending DACA may improve work opportunities for US-born citizens.

But Kallick warned that revoking DACA work permits could "hurt the overall business climate" and even drive companies from the US market.

"We've benefited enormously by being a place that welcomes immigrants where they can thrive in the US economy," Fallick said. "If we're going to adopt an attitude of suspicion, it's going to make for a less attractive place for a globally oriented company to locate its businesses and to expand."

Follow Meredith Hoffman on Twitter.