Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), President Obama’s program that provides a temporary reprieve for young undocumented immigrants, could have an unexpected effect other than providing applicants with better job opportunities. According to San Jose Inside, a recent study conducted by Stanford doctoral candidate Scott Baker shows that the policy might lead to a drop in overall crime—up to 50,000 fewer crimes per year nationwide, he says.
Baker suggests that the deferred action policy is similar to the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), also known as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act. The IRCA was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, and offered a path to legal status for certain undocumented agricultural workers and immigrants who had been continuously present in the United States since 1982. It also increased border enforcement and imposed sanctions for employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers.
Of the estimated 3.2 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States in 1986, more than 3 million applied to the program and almost 90 percent of applicants were eventually granted legal status. In the years that followed the legislation, Baker found a decrease of 2 to 3 percent in crime per capita. The current scope of deferred action is much more limited, as the program has the potential to impact 1.7 undocumented youths. However, Baker insists that there are enough similarities to expect that the policy will lead to a reduction in crime.
The two policies differ significantly in that DACA does not actually grant people a path to citizenship, while the IRCA did. “The effect that the deferred action policy will have on crime does depend on [eligible applicants’] perceptions,” says Baker. “If they think it’s only temporary, the effect won’t be as great.”
Another big difference is that most DACA applicants are DREAMers—young people in pursuit of higher education for whom the United States is the only country they’ve ever called home. This is a very different demographic than agricultural workers who came to the United States in the 1980s for temporary stays.
The increase in labor-market opportunities for applicants is the closest parallel between the IRCA and the deferred action policy, and according to Baker, it might be one of the largest factors in reducing crime.