DACA Helps Young People Realize the Promise of the American Dream

In 2013, Rosa Velazquez, age 30, testified before Congress about her mother’s “hardworking hands.” Velazquez’s mother is an unauthorized immigrant from Mexico who developed carpal tunnel syndrome due to her many years of work in an Arkansas poultry processing plant. It was because of those hardworking hands that Velazquez, herself an unauthorized immigrant who came to the United States as a child, was able to pursue two master’s degrees. As she explained to the House Judiciary Committee, her mother’s hands “are the foundation on which this country was built.”

The experiences of Velazquez and her mother are not unique. Millions of immigrants have come to the United States throughout its 240-year history in hopes of providing better lives for themselves and their children. Just about every family in the United States today has a story about an immigrant ancestor—be it a parent, grandparent, great grandparent, or beyond—who came to this country; made sacrifices; and worked long, hard hours so that their children could become teachers, doctors, lawyers, business people, civil servants, or other professionals. In many ways, this is the story of the American dream.

DACA recipients reflect the American dream

Lost in the morass of today’s immigration debate is the fact that the American dream of our ancestors continues at pace today. This can be seen clearly in the stories and experiences of the more than 741,000 young people who have received a temporary reprieve from deportation and a work permit as a result of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, initiative.

Today, there are an estimated 7 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. workforce. According to an analysis performed earlier this year by the Center for American Progress, the largest share of these workers—nearly one in five—are employed in the leisure and hospitality industry, including in food service, housekeeping, and janitorial jobs.

By Tom Jawetz for Center for American Progress
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