Ripple Effects: How Can We Continue DACA’s Positive Impact?

by Steven Choi, Executive Director, New York Immigration Coalition

This past December, I joined Dr. Roberto Gonzales of Harvard University and Cathie Mahon of the Federation of Community Development Credit Unions for a candid discussion on the impact of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) on DREAMers and their families. (Many thanks to Philanthropy New York; Grantmakers for Children, Youth & Families; and Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees for sponsoring the event.)

We applauded the success that DACA has had, particularly for DREAMers, but we also agreed that there remain significant barriers to universal enrollment.

Dr. Gonzales spoke to geographic and cultural barriers, Ms. Mahon explored those that are economic, and I discussed how an inability to meet the educational requirement keeps an estimated 18,000 individuals out of the program in New York City alone. Support for the “hard-to-reach” populations most affected by these barriers is the natural next step to continuing DACA’s positive impact.

Already, such work has received national attention as the subject of recent New York Times and Politico articles and as the focus of the entire NYC DACA Initiative, which the New York Immigration Coalition is coordinating.

Reflecting upon our discussion, I would like to present three key takeaways from the program:

1. We need to know more about hard-to-reach populations. Over 50 percent of DACA-eligible individuals nationally have yet to apply. This does not include the additional and significant population of “potentially eligible” individuals who lack only the educational requirement and could qualify by simply enrolling in an adult education program. We must maintain funding for local community organizations that can do outreach in their respective communities and afford the DACA program trust and legitimacy.

2. More money and resources are critical to success. Neither private nor public funding in and of itself is sufficient to address the need that DACA presents. The most successful collaborations will involve the complementary interaction and support of public and private funding. Both streams have separate strengths and capacities, which when combined show the greatest potential for change and progress.

3. DACA work will feed into legalization. DACA work being conducted locally and nationally is an excellent window into gaps in immigrant services. DACA’s reach is “horizontal,” across every immigrant group, which lets us see how its different initiatives work or don’t work for certain communities. We can address issues like expanding capacity for legal or educational services; developing better strategic community education and outreach; and encouraging more coordination and collaboration between community organizations, legal assistance providers, the media and outreach groups (among many others). As the greater immigration community continues discussions on how to plan for potential legalization programs, DACA best practices can be capitalized upon as a foundation for such programs, and challenges and obstacles can be addressed head-on.

The Ripple Effects program was a promising jumping-off point for a wider conversation around the potential of DACA beyond just the DREAMer population. I look forward to continuing this conversation and towards further collaboration with funders and city, state and national partners.


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