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A new working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research argues that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program had a “significant impact” on the educational and life decisions of undocumented immigrant youth, resulting in a 45 percent decrease in teen birth rates, a 15 percent increase in high school graduation rates and a 20 percent increase in college enrollment rates. The researchers found differential effects by gender, with most of the gains in college enrollment concentrated among women. For men alone, the effect of DACA on college enrollment was not statistically significant.
DACA, which was established by former president Obama in 2012, gave certain undocumented immigrant students who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children temporary protection from deportation and authorization to work in the U.S. DACA recipients have faced uncertainty over their future since September, when President Trump announced plans to end the program after six months.
“Our main conclusion from this paper is that future labor market opportunities or just opportunities in general really matter,” said Elira Kuka, one of the authors of the paper, titled “Do Human Capital Decisions Respond to the Returns to Education? Evidence From DACA,” and an assistant professor of economics at Southern Methodist University.
“People are worried, ‘Why are there some populations that are not going to high school and not investing in education?’” Kuka said. “Maybe the reason is they don’t see improved opportunities -- but if they see improved labor outcomes they will actually invest in their education.”
The paper notes that previous studies found no or negative effects of DACA on college attendance. Kuka said that these earlier studies were limited to the population of individuals who already graduated from high school, whereas their study also looked at the effect of DACA in incentivizing students to finish high school and therefore be eligible for college entry. Another way their study differed, Kuka said, is that she and her fellow researchers focused on a younger group of individuals who are traditionally high school or college age.