Posted on February 15, 2018 by Jana Schwartz

College of Public Policy Dean and Mark G. Yudof Professor Rogelio Sáenz talks about the future of DACA and his research on immigration and other social policy issues in Q&A.

Rogelio Sáenz photo

(Feb. 16, 2018) — Rogelio Saenz is the dean of the College of Public Policy at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and holds the Mark G. Yudof Endowed Chair. In 2015, he authored the book, "Latinos in the United States: Diversity and Change." He has also authored numerous publications with emphasis on Latinos, demography, race and ethnic relations, immigration and inequality.

Saenz is co-editor of The International Handbook of the Demography of Race and Ethnicity (Springer Press) and regularly writes op-ed essays on current demographic, social, race, economic and political issues. His contributions appear in such newspapers as the Austin American-Statesman, Baltimore Sun, Dallas Morning News, El Paso Times, Houston Chronicle, New York Times, Rio Grande Guardian and San Antonio Express-News. He writes a monthly column for Ahora Sí, the Spanish-language newspaper of the Austin American-Statesman. He is also a Policy Fellow of the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire.

We sat down with Dean Saenz to ask him for his perspective about the impact of DACA on public policy.

We know that you've been watching the status of DACA for many years now. What has surprised you the most about what you've seen?

The major surprise was the rapid decision that President Trump had without much of a plan for bringing forth legislation to protect DACA holders and provide them a path to citizenship, especially in a deeply divided and contentious Congress. Something that is also somewhat surprising is the large division that exists between how the general public views DACA (fairly supportive) and how Congress views the program (much divisions and great divisions not only across party lines but within the Republic party across ideological lines). DACA holders—and Dreamers, more broadly—have wide support from varied groups, including what some political pundits call the three Bs (badges, bibles and business). This broad support unfortunately is absent in Congress.

If our elected officials came to speak to you about DACA, what is the most important thing you think they would need to know, drawing on your experience as a demographer?

This is one of those policies that is a no-brainer when it comes to basic logic. Here you have young men and women who have lived in the United States for most of their lives and who went to our schools. Many are enrolled in our universities or engaged in productive pursuits due to their DACA status. DACA provided them a chance to study, to better themselves and to earn decent wages, thus giving them an opportunity to gain stability and upward socioeconomic mobility.

By taking DACA away from them, we are taking away these benefits that they had which allowed them to contribute significantly to our society. Now we are pushing them back into the shadows which will make it virtually impossible to use their skills and human capital effectively. From a cost-benefit perspective, we have made investments in educating DACA holders and stand to not gain benefits from this investment if we do not come up with a policy to protect DACA holders. In the end, we, as a country, stand to lose if we do not enact legislation to protect DACA holders and provide them a path to citizenship.

What other topics are capturing your interest right now? Is there something going on in your field that the news media isn't reporting?

There is so much going on that is captivating my interest. As I have done for numerous policy issues including Obamacare, gentrification, political representation and immigration, I have brought in data to try to contribute to the political dialogue. The general public is often kept in the dark about public policies without the realization of how given policies impact them. In my writings for the general public, I use data—much of it census data as well as survey data—to help bring attention to public policies and to help people make sense of the debate.

Things that I am keeping an eye on are the children and parents who are coming to South Texas from Central America in search of protection from violence, the fate of the people who have recently lost their Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and the outcome of the upcoming state and national elections given the major political discord in the country.

What makes UTSA unique?

UTSA is a major, thriving Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) with a very diverse student body including many first-generation students. This is a very special place in which we are opening doors of opportunity to transform the lives of our students and their families. UTSA is a place where we can really and truly make very favorable changes in people's lives.

The strong linkage between UTSA and the city of San Antonio is also very special and unique—it is clear that the future of our wonderful university and our beautiful city depend on each other succeeding. As we become a Research Tier-1 institution in the very near future, we have a chance to serve as a model university that is truly engaged with its community in a demographic setting that represents the future of this country.

You lead the UTSA College of Public Policy. Twenty years from now, how would you like the college to be viewed by prospective students? By researchers across the country? By elected officials?

I would like for the College of Public Policy (COPP) to gain national and local prominence. On a national scale, I would like to see COPP become one of the leading public policy institutions in the country that carries out first-rate research to inform public policy—the place where the nation's leading experts on public policy are housed. On a local scale, I would like to see COPP become the major venue and stimulus for engaging students, researchers and the general public in the creation and analysis of key public policies to help improve social and economic conditions in San Antonio, Texas and the state.

What do you do in your spare time?

In my spare time, I read, listen to music and do crossword puzzles.

Ingrid Wright

— Jana Schwartz