President Elect Trump has indicated, in his 100–day plan, that he would, on his first day in office, invalidate all unconstitutional Executive Orders issued by President Obama. Those of us who work in the immigration and constitutional law fields understand this to mean that in January, among other actions, approximately one million young people here pursuant to Executive Action and currently in high school, college, or the military, or who have recently completed one of these, will become deportable. These are the DACA recipients, beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. They are in school with you or your children. They work alongside you. They pay college tuition (they are not eligible for federal financial aid, so they pay a lot of college tuition). Those who applied and were successful received work authorization and a temporary promise from the Obama Administration enabling them to remain in the United States for a short period of time, so that families would not be torn apart and so that children who entered through no fault of their own, many of whom never even knew they were undocumented until they applied to college, were not punished.
If Trump goes through with his promise to invalidate DACA, he has several options, all of which have serious and perhaps unintended economic consequences that are very bad for this country.
If he invalidates their work authorization, but does not immediately deport them, then he creates an immediate and large underclass of people who are vulnerable to labor exploitation. Labor exploitation arises where people with few or no labor protections (such as undocumented people, but also visa holders in certain jobs like domestic household service, or au pairs, who are exempt from labor protection) cannot use the legal process to challenge unfair wage and labor practices. It also arises where people are afraid to complain about unfair or abusive working conditions because their employers threaten them with deportation or reporting them to the authorities for being undocumented, or refusing to renew their visa. Having such a large group of exploitable people, created so immediately, risks driving down wages for all. It also increases the chances of labor exploitation overall, some of which will undoubtedly rise to the level of human trafficking. It will also increase overall insecurity among families of mixed status, some of whom will likely choose to leave.
But if he deports them, the negative economic consequences are worse. First, many DACA recipients have undocumented siblings or parents. Many of whom will elect to depart with their deported relative, rather than be separated as a family. Both of these scenarios increase the number of vulnerable people beyond one million. Hold that thought for a moment.
Trump has also indicated that he will build a wall to prevent new arrivals from reaching the United States—which is arguably a violation of our international obligations under the Refugee Convention—and that he will deport the “illegals” in the United States. His 100-day plan indicated that he would focus on people with a criminal record. This is confusing, and ironic, as this was also the priority of Obama, who deported more people than any other president.
There are an estimated 12 million undocumented people in the United States. The estimate was around 14 million before 2008, but the recession caused a significant number to leave, and stalled new arrivals. Each of these people, like the DACAs, also have family members of mixed immigration status: some citizens, some lawful permanent residents, some undocumented. And as with DACAs, deportation of one increases the likelihood that others may leave.
Now, back to the consequences of implementing a plan that would render this many people disappeared or exploitable.
It is well established—though completely under-discussed, acknowledged and considered—that undocumented people (all foreign migrant laborers, really, and even visa holders) float our social security system. Leaving aside for a moment the enormous amount of taxes they pay, our social security system is entirely dependent upon them, since they pay into it, but do not draw from it; as they are typically gone before age 65 and, in any event, are not entitled to draw without immigration status.
This means that in four short years, should the incoming administration carry out its stated plans, our social security coffers will be completely dry.
I implore the Trump Administration to rethink this plan. Not simply because it is inhumane—which it is, and has other serious consequences—but for the foregoing very pragmatic economic reasons that many of his supporters have failed to consider.