As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its torrent of untold disease and death, disrupting American communities and threatening to overwhelm our health care system, hundreds of thousands of doctors, nurses, technicians and other healthcare workers have put aside their fears and are placing themselves at risk to care for the sick and dying.

Among these first responders, almost 30,000 are immigrants protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. They join tens of thousands of other DACA-eligible residents who, during the crisis, are putting their shoulders to the wheel in our warehouses, staffing our grocery stores and providing other essential services so the rest of us can hunker down to limit the virus’ spread.

Our existential battle against COVID-19 is revealing just how much immigrants matter in sectors of the US labor market with significant labor shortages, especially health care. From treating the ill to holding the hands of those taking their last breaths, to making sure we have access to food while sheltering in place, they embody the best of the American spirit: solidarity, compassion, selflessness.

Fortunately this week, the Supreme Court had the back of these heroes, declaring that the Trump administration cannot end DACA a program protecting some 700, 0000 younger immigrants, our Dreamers from deportation.

It is an important decision continuing the protections of young people our nation so demonstrably needs. It is also a decision with significant immediate and long-term implications for the future of our nation.

According to scholars at the Yale Law School, “The country [is not] prepared to fill the loss that would result if DACA recipients were excluded from the health care workforce.” Indeed, they conclude, “Termination of DACA during this national emergency would be catastrophic.”

For a sense of the dimensions of their contributions: there are more DACA first responders fighting the virus than there are nurses in all of Austria.

DACA has provided a safe and reliable mechanism through which young immigrants brought to this country through no fault of their own — often at a young age — could integrate more fully into American communities. It has demonstrably enabled approximately 700,000 young immigrants to contribute to communities across the country. DACA embodied American pragmatism as its best.

The program provides young immigrants with many important opportunities. The UCLA study of childhood arrivals by the UndocuScholars Project found that 85.5 percent of students with DACA reported a positive impact on their education. DACA recipients enjoyed higher rates of working, greater housing and transportation stability, and greater success in accessing both scholarships and internships. Ninety-four percent of DACA recipients indicated a wish to apply for U.S. citizenship if they were ever eligible. Their participation has important implications for civic engagement with recipients reporting their DACA status has fundamentally contributed to their sense of belonging to American society. As one participant in the study said, “I feel more American.”

The data reveal a deep vein of longing for citizenship as a marker of belonging and giving back to the only country they truly know. In addition to becoming doctors and nurses, these young people told us they longed to become our teachers, EMT’s, firefighters, and our business and civic leaders. We know they kept their word as thousands joined forces with other American first responders to be of service in fighting a vicious killer. These young folks are critical to our future.

The end of DACA would have damaged that future; robbing them of basic protections to build their lives and would have forced them back into a life deep in the shadows of the law. A substantial body of research documents the damage done by living in the shadows of unauthorized immigration status. What the research shows is the magnitude of the harm done. Fear and uncertainty breed difficulties evident from early childhood through adolescence and emerging adulthood. The negative effects have been measured in educational achievement, cognitive development and socio-emotional stability. But the research also shows that these negative effects can be reversed, and that legalization can place these young people on a life trajectory equal to their peers.

We as a nation will continue to harvest the benefits of our investment in these young people. The end of DACA would have returned these young people to the shadows of society, to a precarious life of fear, rather than one of engagement and giving back. DACA’s promise that they can pursue their studies and work and travel freely, gives these young people — Americans in every way except on paper — the motivation to continue their education, the means to work and support themselves and their families, and the psychological and social stability upon which they have come to rely to build lives of purpose and service.

A permanent legislative solution for our Dreamers awaits but today we pause to celebrate. Their win today is our win. Today all Americans of good will celebrate with our worthy Dreamers.


Photograph by Pax Ahimsa Gethen.


Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, the UCLA Wasserman Dean of the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, is a psychological anthropologist. He has taught at Harvard, NYU as well as in Paris (EHESS), University of Barcelona, and the Catholic University of Leuven. The Chancellor-Elect of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Dr. Suárez-Orozco has held fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton) and the Center for Advanced Studies (Stanford). In January 2018 His Holiness Pope Francis appointed Suárez-Orozco Academician, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the Holy See. His most recent book, Humanitarianism and Mass Migration: Confronting the World Crisis, was published in January 2019 by the University of California Press.