Action on DACA Will Shape the Immigration Status of Essential Workers

Approximately 62,000 beneficiaries of the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are healthcare workers constituting the frontlines of the United States’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The immigration status of these frontline workers, including thousands of women, will be in jeopardy when the Supreme Court reaches a decision regarding the Trump administration’s 2017 decision to end the program.

The DACA program was implemented under the Obama administration with the intention of offering protection from deportation to immigrants brought to the United States as minors. This program also provided individuals with the authorization to work lawfully in the United States. In 2017, the Trump administration announced its decision to terminate the DACA program, which was challenged by judges in states like New York and California. Although the program is not taking new applicants, past beneficiaries of DACA are currently able to apply to receive benefits for an additional two years.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments about the rescission of the DACA program in November 2019 and is expected to reach its decision about the future of the program in June 2020. This decision will coincide with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has now infected nearly two million Americans and killed over 100,000. The Supreme Court’s decision is expected to have serious implications, as nearly 62,000 DACA recipients constitute America’s frontline healthcare workers and the nation faces a shortage of healthcare workers.

According to a 2020 study by New American Economy, 16.5 percent of all healthcare workers in the United States are immigrants. Additionally, while 62,000 DACA-eligible individuals are essential healthcare workers, an estimated 480,000 are essential non-healthcare workers; together, this amounts to over 500,000 total essential workers.

Women comprise a majority of healthcare workers in the United States, as well as a significant portion of the immigrants who are healthcare workers. The Center for Economic and Policy Research found that in 2020, 76.8 percent of healthcare professionals are women. Moreover, New American Economy found that in the age of COVID-19, approximately one in eight registered nurses are immigrant women, one in five are personal care aides, and one in five are home health aides.

Unless the United States Congress takes legislative action in a timely manner, immigrants authorized to lawfully work in the United States, including thousands of women, will lose such protection and may be deported if the Supreme Court sides with the Trump administration. As the nation continues to witness thousands of illnesses and deaths daily, the loss of essential healthcare workers is likely to be detrimental to efforts to reopen the economy and respond adequately to the crisis.

Media Resources: The Hill 5/29/20; National Immigration Law Center 5/13/20; Washington Post 11/12/19; American Immigrational Council 9/3/19; New York Times 6/1/20; New American Economy 5/14/20, 5/28/20; Center for Economic and Policy Research 4/20

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