Do you have a dream? The hard working men and women benefiting from DACA

Alberto Diaz-Cayeros
5 min readSep 5, 2017

Labor day is always an ambivalent holiday for me. After having lived more of my life in the US than the years I had in Mexico, I still find it somewhat odd that the US does not celebrate May 1 as the Dia del Trabajo.

When I think about labor day, I cannot help but conjure images of a working class with red and black flags, parading hand in hand with peasants. My image is that of Quarto Stato, the painting by Giusseppe Pelizza de Volpedo that I first discovered in my teenage years when I watched Bertolucci’s epic 1900, rather than cookouts and hamburgers in the grill.

And I always confuse Labor and Memorial day, no matter how many times I have been told that we are gearing towards another season of hard work after enjoying the different pace of life of the summer. Today I cannot help but think about the prospect for hundreds of thousands of young men and women who may be denied the possibility of going back to work through the whim of a pandering President and the ideologues that surround him.

Dreamers (or more formally, beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)) have earned their place in US society for several reasons, not least of which because they represent the best values of our country. They are hard working, law abiding non-citizens who serve in the military, study and work in more productive jobs than their parents. They happen to be in this country because their parents believed they could offer them better opportunities here than in their home countries.

But by being present in the US, they have not broken any moral or ethical principle. This is their home. They want to stay in the country they love, and contribute to a society that has embraced them and taught them its values of hard work, rewarding their responsibility and effort. They are not depending on handouts or charity. They do not expect to be pampered or taken care by others. They believe that with hard work they can make a difference to their own lives and those whom they love or care for. I simply cannot understand how anyone can hold them responsible for the “misdeeds” of their parents. I know of no ethical or religious principle that would establish that a son or a daughter should be punished for a “crime” committed by his or her parent.

DACA beneficiaries are a small proportion of the US population. But I am sure virtually everyone in the country knows a DACA beneficiary, even if they are not aware of it. And the importance of Dreamers for the hispanic community is monumental.

The most up to date information from the Department of Homeland Security USCIS shows that the states with the most beneficiaries are California and Texas. Most Dreamers are Mexican and Central American, but there are substantial numbers from South Korea and the Philippines. The likelihood that a request for Deferred Action is approved is high at 90 percent, although it varies by state in ways that are perhaps to be expected (the highest rate is found in Oregon, the lowest in Maine).

By combining the information from DHS with the mapping of state level characteristics of the Latino Population from the Pew Research Centers we get a better picture of the impact of a decision to terminate DACA in each state.

Mapping the Latino Population, By State, County and City

This is does not constitute an explanation of why the share of DACA recipients is larger in some states than in others, but provides a profile that may be useful to understand where a decision by the President to end this program comes from, or how to coax Congress to pass legislation to uphold DACA, pushed by the consequences in voter dissatisfaction. DACA is more prominent in places were the Hispanic population is not US born, and hence likely to have less political value for Democrats or Republicans alike. This can be seen in the graph that shows the profile of DACA by state (each circle is proportional to the number of approved DACA) comparing the share of them among the Latino population and the share of US born Hispanics (all DACA recipients are foreign born).

The profile of DACA by state reveals that DACA is more prevalent in Southern states that have received relatively recent migratory flows. Florida is an exception in that it shows a very small percentage of DACA to where one would expect to locate it from the empirical regularity in the graph. In this very preliminary analysis of state differences, DACA is NOT more prevalent in places where Latinos have lower earnings, are more likely to fall under the poverty line, or have less insurance or homeownership levels. Nor is there any statistically significant pattern suggesting that a larger share of Mexican origin Latinos is correlated with more DACA requests. There does not seem to be a pattern where the language spoken at home or school enrollment correlates with DACA. There is a strong correlation, however, between the median age of Hispanics in a state and DACA prevalence, which is to be expected.

Not surprisingly, what distinguishes DACA recipients is that they came to this country recently t0 states where the Latino population is not yet a force to be reckoned with in the electoral arena. They work or study, and have a family, like everyone else.

I have been told so often that attitudes towards work and family are part of what make Mexico and the United States so different. If there is something I have learned over my years as a binational immigrant and learning from my US born, but still Mexican children, is that the values that make our two countries are truly the same. Our Protestant and Catholic ethics are not really different. We all love our families unconditionally. And we also take pride in our work ethic. Now I understand that labor day in really about this. About the values of solidarity and communion with the people we love, enjoying a cookout together, and the willingness to go back tomorrow to be as serious and engaged as we can in our jobs, with the dignity of working for to be worthy of the community we all live in. I am sure that every Dreamer knows that there is no other way to live than to both take their work seriously and to put the joy of their family as a first order priority. I hope they have had a beautiful day and that tomorrow they can be comforted by the thought that they are not alone in their values, hopes and aspirations.

Wikimedia Commons/Murcotipton



Alberto Diaz-Cayeros

Mexicano orgulloso, migrante renuente. Economista ITAM y Politólogo Duke. Senior Fellow en CDDRL y Director Centro Estudios Latinoamericanos Stanford University