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Vox: DACA boosted immigrants’ education, labor force participation, productivity

The website Vox covered the research of SMU government policy expert economist Elira Kuka.

It also cut teen pregnancy.

Journalist Matthew Yglesias with the website Vox covered the research of SMU government policy expert Elira Kuka. Her working paper, “Do Human Capital Decisions Respond to the Returns to Education? Evidence from DACA,” was released in February by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Kuka, an assistant professor in the SMU Department of Economics, and her colleagues found that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program under fire by the Trump Administration has significantly changed the lives of young people who came to the United States illegally as children.

Kuka’s research focus is on understanding how government policy effects individual behavior and well-being, the extent to which it provides social insurance during times of need, and its effectiveness in alleviation of poverty and inequality.

Her current research topics include the potential benefits of the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program, the protective power of the U.S. safety net during recessions and various issues in academic achievement.

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By Matthew Yglesias

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program changed the lives of young people who came to the United States illegally as children in incredible ways — boosting high school graduation rates and college enrollment, while slashing teen births by a staggering 45 percent.

That’s according to timely new research from Elira Kuka, Na’ama Shenhav, and Kevin Shih that uses the program to study a larger question that’s of interest to economists — when education becomes more available, do people go get more of it? The DACA results suggest that the answer is yes, at least when there’s a clear upside. The program itself, in other words, was a smashing success in terms of bringing people out of the shadows and letting them contribute more to American society.

Oscar Hernandez, a DACA recipient, explained to Vox’s Dara Lind how things changed.

”The discussion in my house was, ‘You don’t get noticed. Because if you do something awesome and great, you might get noticed, and if you do get noticed, they might find out that we’re here undocumented, and if they find we out we could get separated.’ It was never a discussion we had, but that was the unwritten rule for our house. You don’t do bad things, but you also don’t do good things. You stay under the radar, you work, and that’s it.”

DACA changed that. Suddenly, recipients got to experience what US citizens take for granted — that to excel is good.

Canceling DACA almost certainly won’t reduce the overall size of the unauthorized population living in the United States, but it will meaningfully reduce the educational attainment and economic productivity of the undocumented population. That’s bad for the DREAMers, but also America as a whole.

DACA eligibility led to a lot more schooling
One of DACA’s provisions was that to qualify, you had to get a high school degree if you were old enough. That’s an unusual incentive to stay in school, and using a difference-in-differences design to compare the eligible to non-eligible population over time (you can do this because you had to have arrived within a specific time and age window to qualify) they show that DACA-eligibility increased high school graduation rates by 15 percent and brought teen births down by 45 percent.

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By Margaret Allen

Senior research writer, SMU Public Affairs