We all should have an opportunity to succeed if we are are willing to work hard and apply ourselves.

For years, thousands of people in Hawaii have been denied that opportunity because, as children, they were brought into the county without authorization. They had difficulty accessing college, were not permitted to obtain a driver’s license or lawfully obtain work because of their undocumented status, and they lived under the constant threat of deportation.

Thankfully, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has provided a pathway around these barriers and toward opportunity, all while providing significant economic benefits for the state. Unfortunately, the DACA program, which was first adopted in 2012, is underutilized in Hawaii due to the stigma of being undocumented here.

As a community, we should help and encourage people to apply for the program as a way to allow them to achieve their full potential and benefit the state as a whole.

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Children of immigrants may well have opportunities in Hawaii that they are not taking advantage of.

The DACA program allows people to apply for temporary protection from deportation, receive a social security number, and obtain a work permit. To be eligible, a person must have been brought to the country before the age of 16; have lived in the U.S before June 15, 2007; have been under 31 as of June 15, 2012; and have graduated high school, earned a GED, or currently be taking classes.

Certain kinds of criminal or gang problems may disqualify a person from DACA. In Hawaii, over 3,000 people are immediately eligible, with 2,000 eligible in the future (currently under 15). According to the most recent figures available, only 348 have applied.

DACA offers people a chance to reach their full potential. The type of work one can get as an undocumented immigrant is limited and often plagued by wage theft.  DACA grantees can apply for work permits, making more jobs available and protecting them from labor abuses like working overtime without pay, unsafe work conditions, pay being withheld, or being paid less than minimum wage. People who gain a work permit often see their wages increase because they are protected by these safeguards.

DACA also lets skilled workers apply for jobs that match their skill set. Hawaii recently made in-state tuition available to undocumented immigrants so they can continue their education and workforce training. But without access to a work permit, people don’t have the opportunity to put their education to use. Through the DACA program, not only can workers get a work permit, they also have greater opportunity for advancement and an increase in earnings over their lifetime.

We have an opportunity to grow the economy, increase state revenue, and open a pathway to success for thousands of Hawaii residents. Encouraging people to apply for DACA should be a community priority.

Higher earnings also impact the well-being of future generations. Brain development is stunted in children who grow up in homes where they experience hunger or increased stress, and when they have less interaction with their parents due to parents working longer hours to make ends meet. These conditions undermine a child’s ability to succeed in school and later in life. A small impact in a parent’s wages can have a substantial impact on children’s lives over the long term, affecting the family and the community in which they live.

The positive economic benefits of DACA for the state have been well researched. Undocumented immigrants paid over $31 million in state and local taxes in Hawaii  in 2012 without immigration reform. An increase in work permits and compliance with labor laws would increase income and payroll taxes the state collects. A recent study estimated that comprehensive immigration reform would increase Hawaii’s revenue by $3 million.

Immigrants are also a vital part of small businesses and their growth. An immigrant is more likely to open a business than a native-born person. More than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants and an estimated 4.7 million people were employed by immigrant-owned small business in the U.S. In Hawaii, almost a quarter of all business owners were foreign-born. We need to keep the pathways to business opportunities open.

We have an opportunity to grow the economy, increase state revenue, and open a pathway to success for thousands of Hawaii residents. Encouraging people to apply for DACA should be a community priority.

A group of Hawaii nonprofits has joined together to form the hiDACA partnership to spread the word about DACA and to help people apply. The hiDACA website — hiDACA.org — contains information on applying for DACA and on how you can help by sharing information about the program.

The benefits to the individual and the state as a whole cannot be overstated. At a time when we face a state budget deficit and increasing cost of living, DACA offers increased state revenues and increased personal wages. All residents of Hawaii should have the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

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