Tech Sector Calls for Legislation to Let DACA Youth Stay in the U.S.

Leading executives say program for foreign-born youth makes their businesses more competitive

By Allen Smith, J.D. Sep 19, 2017
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This is the first in a three-part series of articles on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Today we examine the tech sector's call for legislation to allow young, undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S.

The tech sector has strongly opposed the unwinding of the DACA program, with the leaders of Facebook, Microsoft, Cisco, Google and Uber all voicing their support for Dreamers—the young, undocumented immigrants that DACA allows to stay in the U.S.

But other voices are calling just as loudly for an end to DACA and for these young immigrants to return to the country of their birth.

‘Pass the Bipartisan Dream Act’

​DACA was initiated through a 2012 executive action by former President Barack Obama after the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors or Dream Act, which would have granted permanent residency to those brought to the United States illegally by their parents when they were children, failed to pass Congress. DACA participants often are referred to as Dreamers. They had been eligible for a renewable two-year relief from deportation and work permits.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Sept. 5 that DACA would end March 5, 2018, which resulted in an outcry from tech leaders.

"The decision to end DACA is not just wrong. It is particularly cruel to offer young people the American dream, encourage them to come out of the shadows and trust our government, and then punish them for it," Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook co-founder, said on social media. "The young people covered by DACA are our friends and neighbors. They contribute to our communities and to the economy. I've gotten to know some Dreamers over the past few years, and I've always been impressed by their strength and sense of purpose. They don't deserve to live in fear."

He noted that the approximately 800,000 Dreamers will start to lose their ability to work legally in six months and will then risk deportation.

"It's time for Congress to act to pass the bipartisan Dream Act or another legislative solution that gives Dreamers a pathway to citizenship," he said. "No bill is perfect, but inaction now is unacceptable."

Action Urged Before Congress Takes on Tax Reform

​Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer of Microsoft, urged Congress to adopt legislation on DACA before it tries to adopt a tax reform bill. "This is the only way, given the number of legislative days Congress has scheduled over the next six months, we realistically can expect Congress to complete DACA legislation in time," he said on Microsoft's official blog.

"As an employer, we appreciate that Dreamers add to the competitiveness and economic success of our company and the entire nation's business community. In short, urgent DACA legislation is both an economic imperative and humanitarian necessity," he said.

"Smart immigration can help our economic growth and global competitiveness," said Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO, in a post on LinkedIn. "As a CEO, I see each day the direct contributions that talented employees from around the world bring to our company, our customers and to the broader economy."

Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco; Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google; and Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber, all tweeted in support of Dreamers.

Three hundred tech leaders, including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Apple CEO Tim Cook, signed a letter on FWD.us—a website Zuckerberg co-founded to lobby on immigration reform—urging President Donald Trump to continue the DACA program.  The tech leaders stated that "Dreamers are vital to the future of our companies and our economy. With them, we grow and create jobs. They are part of why we will continue to have a global competitive advantage."

Opposition to DACA

​While Dreamers can get jobs they could not have filled before Obama's executive order, other Americans may be edged out of certain jobs because of DACA, including lower-wage positions requiring only a high school degree, according to Steven Camarota, director of research with the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. Decent-paying jobs that require only a high school degree are becoming less common, and minorities have a lower rate of earning college degrees, he noted, saying he believes that DACA results in higher unemployment rates of minority job applicants.

The average DACA recipient is 22 years old, employed and earns about $17 an hour, according to the Cato Institute in a report issued earlier this year outlining many benefits of DACA—a report that estimated a $280 billion reduction in economic growth over the next decade if DACA is discontinued. Many DACA participants are still college students, and 17 percent are pursuing a postgraduate degree. By contrast, most H-1B visa recipients are between 25 and 34 years old and have either a bachelor's degree or a master's degree.

Ira Mehlman, media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said FAIR opposes DACA because it is unconstitutional since Congress did not pass it and is also bad public policy. "If the premise of DACA or the Dream Act is that we have an ethical obligation to allow people who came or were brought here in the past as minors to remain, we will have that same obligation to future waves of minors who come or are brought here," he said. "In a world of 7.5 billion people, there have to be limits on immigration and those limits must be enforced. It is a recognition that large-scale immigration affects all of the things that are important to people: their jobs, their wages, their children's schools, their access to public services and benefits, how their tax dollars are allocated, and countless other things."

If amnesty is granted to Dreamers, then the effect of chain migration must be taken into account, said NumbersUSA President Roy Beck, who opposes DACA and immigration like it, partly for the effect DACA has on "the abysmal employment rate of vulnerable populations."


Support for DACA Beyond Tech Sector

​David Grunblatt, an attorney with Proskauer in Newark, N.J., said his clients are concerned about the end of DACA, but more from a humanitarian and social perspective than for business reasons. "Most who have talked to me about it anecdotally were disturbed by the possibility that they would have to fire someone who they felt was "as American as anyone else."

Smith noted that Microsoft knew of 39 Dreamers at the company—not an overwhelming number at a company that employs more than 73,000 people in the U.S. On the other hand, companies may not know exactly how many DACA participants they have working for them unless HR made copies of the workers' Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) during the I-9 process. The code for Dreamers is on the front—C33. If HR did not make copies of the EADs, employers should have at least noted the date the card expires and relied on a "tickler system" to alert the business when the temporary work authorization document is about to run out, said Luis Campos, an attorney with Haynes and Boone in Dallas.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Complying with I-9 and E-Verify Requirements in the United States]

Tech businesses are more sensitive generally to the needs and concerns of DACA participants because the tech sector has a larger percentage of foreign talent than other businesses do, Grunblatt noted.

Ian Macdonald, an attorney with Greenberg Traurig in Atlanta, said that a wide variety of industries use DACA program participants, though. "Equipped with a high school or college-level education, DACA program participants entered the workforce in a variety of fields that include both blue- and white-collar jobs." He noted that these fields include construction, IT support, health care and retail. "Executives from hundreds of companies across the industry spectrum have openly criticized the Trump administration for rescinding the DACA program, stating that their companies will lose talented employees," he said.

However, the tech sector has perhaps been the most outspoken, particularly Smith at Microsoft.

"As this debate moves forward, we need to remember that these 800,000 individuals came to our nation as children," he said. "They grew up in this country. They attended our local schools and count millions of American citizens as friends. They obey our laws, pay taxes here and have registered voluntarily with the federal government for DACA relief. They are loyal to this country and contribute their time and money to local churches, schools and community groups. The Dreamers are part of our nation's fabric. They belong here."

This was the first in a three-part series of articles on DACA. Tomorrow's installment will examine employer options to retain DACA workers.

 

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