Some Employers Are Still Unsure About Hiring 'Dreamers'

Immigrants’ advocate says reticence comes from lack of awareness, uncertainty

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer February 5, 2020
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​Hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children—commonly referred to as "Dreamers"—are legally working across the country under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protection. Since the policy was announced in 2012, more than 700,000 people have obtained protection from deportation under DACA. But with the fate of DACA up in the air, many employers are unsure about hiring those from this diverse talent pool.    

Candy Marshall, president of TheDream.US and an advocate for "Dreamers," discussed the issue with Candy Marshall SHRM Online. Marshall is a philanthropic leader in the Pacific Northwest and formerly the chief human resources officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

SHRM Online: What is TheDream.US?

Marshall: TheDream.US is the country's largest college scholarship program for immigrant youth. Most of our scholars have either DACA protection or TPS [temporary protected status] and have faced obstacles in their college journey, including [having] no access to federal aid and limited access to state or institutional aid. Since 2013 we have given over 5,000 scholarships to "Dreamers" who are enrolled in or have graduated from college.

We currently have over 800 graduates looking for employment. These multilingual students are an amazing talent pool, highly motivated and very eager to give back to this country, but we discovered that the doors to employment were sometimes closed.

SHRM Online: Why do you think that employers are sometimes reluctant to hire them?

Marshall: It comes from uncertainty and a lack of awareness. Some employers just aren't sure if they can hire people with DACA. As long as an applicant or employee with DACA has a current employment authorization document [EAD], the person is able to work legally without sponsorship. In fact, it is unlawful to deny a DACA or TPS recipient employment based on their immigration status.  

Some employers think that they will have to provide sponsorship for "Dreamers," which can be a tedious process. Employers do not need to provide sponsorship. They can be hired just as you hire any other employee.

Sadly, some employers may understand that they can hire "Dreamers," but there is a reluctance to do so because of the uncertainty around DACA's future due to legal challenges. They think DACA may be eliminated, and the employee's work authorization will expire after they have already invested money and training into these workers. That is unlawful. If someone has a valid EAD, you can't refuse to hire them [just because of their immigration status].

On the other hand, some of the most prominent companies in corporate America are already benefiting from contributions of DACA employees—at least 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies employ DACA recipients.

SHRM Online: What can employers do to recruit and hire people with DACA?

Marshall: Create a webpage highlighting that you are DACA-friendly. Be vocal about your position on the issue. Go out into the community and hold DACA clinics. Doing that sends a message that you are a company that supports "Dreamers."  

Many employers have DACA recipients in their workforce, whether they know it or not. If they are willing to be identified, they are the best advocates and promoters. Encourage your DACA employees to spread the word about career opportunities in your company to other "Dreamers." Spotlight them in the company communications. Create an employee resource group dedicated to them.

If employers are willing and able to provide sponsorship, doing so will allow a person with DACA to work beyond the expiration of their employment authorization.

Employers can also help their DACA employees by providing funds for the renewal of their employment authorizations and providing access to legal representation.

SHRM Online: With a Supreme Court decision on the DACA case expected before this summer, what do employers need to know regarding DACA and employing "Dreamers"?

Marshall: Even if the Supreme Court rules that the Trump administration lawfully rescinded DACA, employers can still hire and continue to employ people with DACA and a current employment authorization document. The permits are valid until they expire. Most DACA holders have been renewing their DACA and work permits early. These permits won't expire until two years after they were issued.

In that time frame, they are able to legally work. There is also the possibility that Congress will provide permanent protections or that a DACA holder will have another path to permanent residency. 

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