Galería de la Raza’s latest digital mural project, ‘To Immigrants with Love’. Art by Jess X. Snow and Roger Peet. Photo: Mabel Jiménez

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is one of the most successful programs to emerge from the Obama era, and its repeal will have a devastating impact on 800,000 recipients and their families once it goes into effect early in 2018.

A recent survey of more than 3,000 DACA recipients conducted by U.C. San Diego in conjunction with United We Dream, The National Immigration Law Center, and The Center for American Progress, illustrates just how impactful DACA has been.

Of those who responded, 94 percent have pursued higher education, something that they didn’t have access to before DACA, and more than 90 percent are currently employed.

The survey, which is the largest of its kind to date, also found that 69 percent of respondents reported finding a job with better pay after receiving Deferred Action, and more than half reported moving to a job that better fit their education, training and long-term career goals.

“DACA is helping unlock the economic potential of DACA recipients,” said Tom Wong, an associate professor of political science at U.C. San Diego, who helped spearhead the survey.

Its recipients’ earnings have improved dramatically, with wages increasing an average of 69 percent (84 percent for those 25 and older).

Of DACA recipients currently in school, 72 percent are pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher. For those out of school, and for those 25 and older, 36 percent have a BA or graduate degree.

“This is not only higher than the native born population as a whole, but it’s also higher than the naturalized citizen population, which is the most educated subset of American society,” Wong said.

According to the survey, the average age entry to the United States was 6 and a half (around kindergarten or first grade).

“DACA recipients are American in every sense of the word but for a piece of paper,” said Wong. “Now as they’re hitting their stride in life … the decision to end DACA is literally pulling the rug out from under DACA recipients.”

DACA recipient Luis Quiroz at the New America Media roundtable, “How Safe Are Bay Area Immigrants?” on Aug. 30. Photo: Adelyna Tirado

Living undocumented in America

For all but that piece of paper, Luis Quiroz is an American. The San Francisco State student was born in Guerrero, Mexico, but raised in San Diego from the time he was six months old.

During his childhood he shouldered the responsibility of interpreting and filling out applications for his parents. It was when he was 14 and wanting to fill out his own an application for a California ID, that he learned he didn’t have a social security number.

“It can be taken for granted,” Quiroz said, recalling a youth where he couldn’t apply for a driver’s licence and financial aid, where he was turned away from his high school swim team for not having health insurance.

But DACA changed all of that. It allowed him to go from getting paid under the table in the food industry to finding a better paying job in an optometry office, which gave him a chance at a college education. Attending college was a goal instilled in him as a middle school student.

“It was just always embedded that I would be going to college and I think that it had to do with living in the inner city,” Quiroz said.

Yet even then, it took Quiroz two years to apply because his family advised him not to disclose his information. But he eventually reached a point where he had no other option when he learned he didn’t qualify for financial aid.

“It gave me an identity, I could prove to the world that I was Luis Quiroz,” he said, in a revealing statement alluding to the uncertainty of living undocumented. “Our livelihoods are constantly at stake in political games. And that’s detrimental to a safe, healthy and sane lifestyle.”

Between the 2005 and 2015 Quiroz’s father, mother and older brother Ulises were all deported, leaving him and his younger sister (his only immediate family member who is a U.S. citizen).

In March 2015, his brother Ulises was murdered in Ixtapa, Guerrero in front of his four-year-old daughter, who Luis has never met. He didn’t attend the funeral because he needed to save money for his advance parole application, which allowed him to safely travel and return to the country under DACA.

By the time Quiroz managed to save enough and gather the necessary paperwork for his application, DACA had been rescinded and with it, all advance parole applications.

“I currently have no way of going to Mexico or seeing his grave,” Quiroz said.

Quiroz is now nine months from graduating. He attends school part time, and works full time to pay for it, splitting his workload between his optometry job and a paid fellowship with San Francisco’s Office of Civic Engagement & Immigrant Affairs. He’s even started his own business, a social media consulting agency called Trending Socials, which helps small business with their social media marketing.

Quiroz, like other DACA recipients, is now facing an increasingly uncertain future.

“At this point I’m unsure of what my future looks like. Living with that cloud looming over you, following you, not knowing when it’s going to storm on you…” Quiroz said. “I have school, I have a job. I have things that demand my immediate attention.”

Wong said that Quiroz’s story illustrates why DACA matters and the numbers help tell the story.

“When I think about the data and what it all points too, it makes clear that DACA works,” Wong said, adding, “that DACA not only improves the lives of individual recipients and their families, but positively affects the American economy and society more generally.”