Two senior Obama administration officials told the Associated Press that the administration will enforce many of the major portions of the Dream Act using the president’s administrative discretion to defer deportation actions. According to a memo released by the Department of Homeland Security this morning, the plan would apply to unauthorized immigrants who:
- Came to the United States under the age of 16.
- Have continuously resided in the United States for a least five years preceding the date of the memorandum and are present in the United States on the date of the memorandum.
- Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States.
- Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise poses a threat to national security or public safety.
- Are not above the age of 30.
If the above plan is implemented fully, between 800,000 and 2.1 million unauthorized immigrants could be legalized for up to two years. By being legalized they will become more productive, earn higher wages, and more fully assimilate into American society. But this is only a temporary fix.
Temporary work permits can be issued to unauthorized immigrants who have their deportations deferred but in this situation they would only last 2 years. It’s a routine administrative procedure that already occurs for unauthorized immigrants who have their deportations deferred. This is one situation where the complexity of our immigration rules and regulations works to the advantage of immigrants and Americans.
A permanent version of this action in the form of the admittedly imperfect Dream Act would need to be passed to reap the full rewards.
The benefits from passing the Dream Act are enormous. Evidence from the 1986 amnesty showed that the legalized immigrants experienced a 15.1 percent increase in their earnings by 1992, with roughly 6 to 13 percentage points due to the legalization.
In the Winter 2012 issue of The Cato Journal, Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda estimated that an amnesty similar to 1986 would yield at least an added $1.5 trillion to GDP over a single decade. If 2.1 million eligible unauthorized immigrants were permanently legalized, that would be at least $250 billion in additional production over the next decade (back of the envelope calculation).
However, before we get too thrilled about the prospects of this sorely needed temporary liberalization, we should remember that hardly anything changed the last time the Obama administration used its prosecutorial discretion to review deportation cases. His administration promised to wade through backlogged cases and close those where the unauthorized immigrants had strong American family ties and no criminal records. Since that policy went into effect in November 2011, DHS officials have reviewed more than 411,000 cases and less than 2 percent of them were closed.
If the administration’s proposal temporarily goes as far as the Dream Act would, it will shrink the informal economy, increase economic efficiency, and remove the fear and uncertainty of deportation from potentially millions of otherwise law-abiding people. It would be a good first step toward reforming immigration and a glimpse at what the Dream Act would do.