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The Economic Effects of Providing Legal Status to DREAMers


  • Ortega Francesc

    () (Dina Axelrad Perry Professor of Economics, Queens College. CUNY, 65-30 Kissena Blvd, Flushing, NY11367, USA)

  • Edwards Ryan

    () (Research Associate, Berkeley Population Center, UC, Berkeley, CA, USA)

  • Hsin Amy

    () (Associate Professor of Sociology, Queens College, CUNY, NY, USA)


This study quantifies the economic effects of two major immigration policies aimed at legalizing undocumented individuals that entered the United States as children and completed high school: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the DREAM Act. The former offers only temporary legal status to eligible individuals, whereas the latter provides a track to legal permanent residence. Our analysis is based on a general equilibrium model that allows for shifts in participation between work, college, and non-employment. The model is calibrated to account for productivity differences across workers of different skills and documentation status, and a rich pattern of complementarities across different types of workers. We estimate that DACA increased gross domestic product (GDP) by almost 0.02% (about $3.5 billion), or $7,454 per legalized worker. Passing the DREAM Act would increase GDP by around 0.08% (or $15.2 billion), which amounts to an average of $15,371 for each legalized worker. The larger effects of the DREAM Act stem from the expected larger take-up and the increased incentive to attend college among DREAMers with a high school degree. We also find substantial wage increases for individuals obtaining legal status, particularly those that increase their educational attainment. Because of the small size of the DREAMer population, and their skill distribution, legalization entails negligible effects on the wages of US-born workers.

Suggested Citation

  • Ortega Francesc & Edwards Ryan & Hsin Amy, 2018. "The Economic Effects of Providing Legal Status to DREAMers," IZA Journal of Labor Policy, Sciendo & Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 9(1), pages 1-18, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:vrs:izajlp:v:9:y:2018:i:1:p:18:n:5
    DOI: 10.2478/izajolp-2019-0005

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Joël MACHADO, 2017. "Dealing with Undocumented Immigrants: The Welfare Effects of Amnesties and Deportations," JODE - Journal of Demographic Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 83(4), pages 445-492, December.
    2. Monras, Joan & Vázquez-Grenno, Javier & Elias Moreno, Ferran, 2017. "Understanding the Effects of Legalizing Undocumented Immigrants," IZA Discussion Papers 10687, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    3. Sherrie A. Kossoudji & Deborah A. Cobb-Clark, 2002. "Coming out of the Shadows: Learning about Legal Status and Wages from the Legalized Population," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(3), pages 598-628, July.
    4. J. David Brown & Julie L. Hotchkiss & Myriam Quispe-Agnoli, 2013. "Does Employing Undocumented Workers Give Firms A Competitive Advantage?," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 53(1), pages 158-170, February.
    5. Lozano, Fernando A. & Sorensen, Todd A., 2011. "The Labor Market Value to Legal Status," IZA Discussion Papers 5492, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    6. Pope, Nolan G., 2016. "The Effects of DACAmentation: The Impact of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals on Unauthorized Immigrants," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 143(C), pages 98-114.
    7. Julie L. Hotchkiss & Myriam Quispe-Agnoli, 2009. "Employer monopsony power in the labor market for undocumented workers," FRB Atlanta Working Paper 2009-14, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
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    Cited by:

    1. Amy Hsin & Francesc Ortega, 2018. "The Effects of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals on the Educational Outcomes of Undocumented Students," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 55(4), pages 1487-1506, August.
    2. Giuntella, Osea & Lonsky, Jakub, 2020. "The effects of DACA on health insurance, access to care, and health outcomes," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(C).
    3. Giuntella, Osea & Lonsky, Jakub & Mazzona, Fabrizio & Stella, Luca, 2020. "Immigration Policy and Immigrants’ Sleep. Evidence from DACA," GLO Discussion Paper Series 589, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
    4. Osea Giuntella & Jakub Lonsky & Fabrizio Mazzonna & Luca Stella, 2020. "Immigration Policy and Immigrants’ Sleep. Evidence from DACA," DISCE - Working Papers del Dipartimento di Economia e Finanza def096, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Dipartimenti e Istituti di Scienze Economiche (DISCE).
    5. Giuntella, Osea & Lonsky, Jakub, 2018. "The Effects of DACA on Health Insurance, Access to Care, and Health Outcomes," IZA Discussion Papers 11469, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).

    More about this item


    DREAMers; immigration; legalization; undocumented;

    JEL classification:

    • I20 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - General
    • I26 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Returns to Education
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics


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