On June 15, 2012, President Barack Obama signed an executive order creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA allowed some 752,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, often referred to as “Dreamers,” to apply for renewable two-year permits that allow them to live and work legally in the country. On September 5, 2017, however, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump Administration would be rescinding DACA because of alleged “unconstitutionality,” putting the fates of hundreds of thousands in jeopardy and raising questions about DACA recipients’ ability to file workers’ compensation claims.
A Brief History of DACA
The DACA program allowed undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents as minors to apply for renewable two-year permits that allowed them to reside, work, obtain drivers’ licenses, and go to school legally on a provisional basis. In order to qualify for DACA, the “Dreamers” needed to meet the following requirements:
• Under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
• Came to the United States before age 16;
• Had continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;
• Physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making the request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
• Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012;
• Was currently in school, had graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or was an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
• Had not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and did not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
Those whose DACA status is set to expire on March 5 will have until Oct. 5 of this year to submit renewal applications to the federal government. Those without DACA status and those who did not submit initial applications by Sept. 5 will not be eligible for the program. As DACA recipients’ benefits expire, so too will the protections that keep them from being deported by immigration authorities, leaving the ability for DACA recipients who are injured to receive workers’ compensation benefits unclear.
Workers’ Compensation and “The Dreamers”
According to a study by the Center for American Progress (CAP) and FWD.us, over the past five years, 91% of immigrants who have registered under DACA have found gainful employment and are working for companies across the country, with an estimated 6% of them starting their own businesses. For every business day that DACA renewals are put on hold, more than 1,400 of its recipients will lose their ability to work legally and could be dismissed by their employers, resulting in job losses for more than 30,000 people each month.
As a result, the removal of DACA recipients from the workforce is estimated to cost the national GDP $460.3 billion over the next decade. The report also estimates a loss to American businesses of $3.4 billion in unnecessary turnover costs and a dent in Medicare and Social Security contributions of $24.6 billion over the next ten years.
While the CAP/FWD.us report looks at the impact of rescinding DACA on a macroeconomic level, questions remain for workers in their everyday lives, including one that is especially relevant to our firm: Can workers who lose their DACA status still obtain workers’ compensation benefits? The short answer is yes, but with some caveats.
Regardless of workers’ legal status, nearly all fifty states have determined that injured undocumented workers have the same rights to certain workers’ compensation benefits as others. This is also true in the state of Illinois, where a reported 41,256 DACA recipients live and an estimated 35,893 of them work. Therefore, workers who currently have legal status under DACA would likely still be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if they are injured even when their DACA status expires. That being said, fear of reprisal may discourage workers who have DACA status from filing workers’ compensation claims for their injuries because they are reluctant to call attention to their status should DACA expire.
“I Will Revisit This Issue!”
For the time being, DACA’s fate remains uncertain. The Trump Administration has promised a delay of six months in rescinding it, giving Congress time to pass a legislative fix, something that it has historically been unable to do. About this, President Trump has tweeted:
Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can't, I will revisit this issue!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2017
Arguably, this statement offers little in the way of concrete assurances about the future of the program.
Given this cloud of uncertainty, many injured workers, whether or not they are DACA recipients, may find that they can benefit from the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney, like the workers’ compensation attorneys at GWC Injury Lawyers, Illinois’ largest Workers’ Compensation and Personal Injury law firm.
If you have been injured in the workplace, please contact GWC today to schedule a free consultation with one of our workers’ compensation attorneys. Call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with one of our representatives.