Illegal immigrant Dreamers — those who signed up for President Obama’s 2012 deportation amnesty — have experienced dramatically improved lives, with most telling researchers in a report released Tuesday that they have found better jobs and a striking number saying they have started their own businesses.
Nearly 750,000 illegal immigrants have been approved for Mr. Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which grants a two-year stay of deportation and issues work permits to illegal immigrants younger than 31 who were brought to the U.S. by age 16.
The work permit allows them to hold jobs legally, obtain driver’s licenses and Social Security numbers, apply for credit cards and bank accounts, and blend in with society.
More than 90 percent of those approved have received driver’s licenses or state ID cards, and most reported increased job prospects once they had tentative legal status, the Center for American Progress said in its report, based on polling of DACA recipients.
Some 54 percent have bought their first cars and 12 percent have purchased homes, said the study, suggesting that those purchases have helped the broader economy.
“DACA is good for everyone — both native-born and immigrant alike,” said Ignacia Rodriguez, immigration policy advocate at the National Immigration Law Center.
The program was controversial from the start. Mr. Obama repeatedly said he didn’t have authority to grant deferred action to such a broad category of people, but he reversed himself in the months leading up to the 2012 election.
In 2014, after his party sustained major losses in congressional elections, Mr. Obama tried to expand the program to as many as 5 million other illegal immigrants by lifting the age limit on DACA and creating an offshoot program for illegal immigrant parents of U.S. citizens and green card holders, known as DAPA. Federal courts ruled that Mr. Obama broke the law, and the program has been put on hold ever since.
No such challenge was made to the original DACA program, though, and the administration has been approving applications at a steady pace.
So far, 741,546 people have been approved for an initial two-year amnesty and 526,288 have been approved for renewals according to the most recent statistics from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency handling the applications. USCIS had some initial stumbles, including approving applications from gang members, which the agency had to evoke.
The study this week said hundreds of thousands of other illegal immigrants who would qualify for DACA still haven’t applied.
Greisa Martinez Rosas, one of those approved for DACA who is now an immigrant rights activist with United We Dream, said she was able to buy a home after she was granted tentative legal status.
She said there is a powerful political movement tied to DACA. Although her mother is in the U.S. without authorization and doesn’t have any legal status, two of her younger sisters are U.S. citizens and one of them is of voting age — and will cast a ballot this year.
More than 40 percent of DACA recipients have immediate relatives who are citizens of voting age, and most of them are registered to vote, the survey found.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has included Dreamers in her campaign events. One of them spoke at the Democratic National Convention. Mrs. Clinton has vowed to try to surmount the adverse court rulings and expand the DACA program to cover most illegal immigrants.
By contrast, Republican nominee Donald Trump has said Mr. Obama’s actions were illegal, and he has vowed to rescind them.