Startups need Congress to step in on threatened immigration program

By Jennifer Weinhart, Senior Policy Advisor, Engine Advocacy & Foundation

What is DACA?

DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, was established in 2012 under the Obama administration to provide legal protections to certain young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. The program, which provides protection from deportation and work authorization for a renewable two-year period, does not provide for a pathway to citizenship. To be eligible, recipients had to arrive in the U.S. prior to reaching 16 years of age and had to have lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007. Applicants could be no older than 30 years of age upon the enactment of DACA. (DACA recipients and Dreamers are often referred to interchangeably, and both terms refer to immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. The DREAM Act is bipartisan legislation that would provide legal protections for roughly 2 million immigrants, including DACA recipients.)

Why does this matter to startups?

Dreamers provide incalculable contributions to the innovation ecosystem. Not only do immigrants found new businesses at a higher rate than native-born Americans, but immigrants have launched roughly 55 percent of America’s unicorn startups. Moreover, almost 80 percent of America’s privately held, billion-dollar companies have an immigrant founder or have an immigrant in a leadership role. And as Engine has noted in the past, DACA recipients themselves are incredibly entrepreneurial — according to a 2019 study from the Center for American Progress, six percent of DACA recipients under the age of 25 have started businesses of their own, as well as nine percent of recipients over the age of 25. If Congress fails to codify DACA and protect Dreamers, the U.S. stands to lose out on countless innovative discoveries and will further shrink the skilled talent pool the startups rely on to build their teams.

Where are we now?

DACA has faced consistent challenges since its inception, particularly after the Supreme Court found a similar program — the Deferred Action for Parent Arrivals (DAPA) — to be illegal in 2016. Most recently in October, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found the DACA program to be unlawful, sending the case back to the lower court to reconsider DACA in light of the administration’s rule to preserve and fortify the program. Current recipients still retain their status with the ability to renew, but new applicants are barred from applying. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have regularly called for a permanent solution for DACA recipients, but Congress has yet to send a bill to President Biden’s desk. The House has passed the American Dream and Promise Act to provide legal status for all Dreamers, but the Senate has not advanced the bill, and the current session of Congress ends later this month.

What comes next?

Many immigrant advocates believe that codifying DACA must happen now during a lame duck session of Congress, or the program will likely disappear. Legal challenges are expected to make their way to the Supreme Court, where a conservative majority of justices are unlikely to support the program. If the Supreme Court finds DACA to be unlawful, the consequences for recipients would be catastrophic. They face the loss of their legal protections, including the ability to live and work in the U.S., and they may be separated from their families, their livelihoods, and the only home many have ever known. But the repercussions don’t end there, as studies indicate the losses for the U.S. economy would be astronomical. According to FWD, if DACA ends, 22,000 jobs would be lost each month for two years, amounting to 1,000 jobs per business day. These losses would be felt across critical industries, including healthcare and education, where workers are already struggling and overburdened due to effects from the pandemic.

In order to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients do not have their legal status to live and work in the U.S. in jeopardy, Congress must act immediately. Although the House has passed the American Dream and Promise Act, which would provide legal protections for over 3 million immigrants, the Senate has yet to advance any legislation protecting Dreamers because at least ten Republicans must get on board. As time runs out on a lame duck session of Congress, there are only a matter of weeks left for policymakers to act before we enter a period of divided government, under which meaningful immigration reform will likely be a challenge as Republicans are expected to make border security a focal point of their agenda. Lawmakers should pursue any viable option, including a standalone bill or attaching protections to a piece of legislation that must pass before the close of the 117th Congress.

Engine is a non-profit technology policy, research, and advocacy organization that bridges the gap between policymakers and startups. Engine works with government and a community of thousands of high-technology, growth-oriented startups across the nation to support the development of technology entrepreneurship through economic research, policy analysis, and advocacy on local and national issues.



Engine is the voice of startups in government. We are a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurship through economic research, policy analysis, and advocacy.

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Engine is the voice of startups in government. We are a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurship through economic research, policy analysis, and advocacy.