You don’t need to be a political genius to understand that Trump’s decision to end DACA — a program that had protected nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children — is ethically questionable and damaging. But it won’t just threaten the almost one million such children in the country, it will threaten the country’s future itself.

Ninth-grade, high-school students from Peoria, AZ analyze images of Mars. Image credits: NASA.

A study found that a remarkable 83% (33 of 40) of the finalists of the 2016 Intel Science Talent Search, a competition often called the “Junior Nobel Prize”, are the children of immigrants. The study, published by the National Foundation for American Policy, reads:

“An impressive 83 percent (33 of 40) of the finalists of the 2016 Intel Science Talent Search, the leading science competition for U.S. high school students, were the children of immigrants. Moreover, 75 percent – 30 out of 40 – of the finalists had parents who worked in America on H-1B visas. That compares to 7 children who had both parents born in the United States.”

Out of these, 14 had both parents born in India and 11 had both parents in born in China. To put it into perspective, Indian and Chinese people only represent about 1% of US population each, indicating that many immigrants offer disproportionate contributions. Interviewed by Forbes, all children from immigrant parents appeared to understand the massive sacrifices their parents had to make to ensure their chance at a bright future.

Take Kunal Shroff, who won the Third Place Medal of Distinction for Basic Research for examining the potential benefits of “random nanowire networks” as an “alternative to the transparent conductors now used in touchscreen devices.” Heartwarmingly, he told the interviewer:

“My parents taught me to never be a quitter, to strive through adversity, which I found necessary to conduct research.”

In fact, it’s often resilience in the face of adversity that makes these kids want to succeed. But there’s more to it than this. Many immigrant parents work in technical fields and it’s natural for them to encourage their kids also to enter technical fields. It’s often not the same field, but it’s still something technical or scientific. Even when that’s not the case, the children seem to be more drawn to science. Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna wants to make the most of the chance her Nigerian parents have worked so hard to offer her.

“They sacrificed so much for me,” said Augusta, who is working to improve the properties of cement. “My father grew up during the civil war in Nigeria and couldn’t afford an education.”

Authors caution that making immigration rules more strict could have dramatic consequences on America’s top students, more and more of which are immigrants. In 2004, in the same competition, 60% of finalists had at least one immigrant parent. In 2011, that proportion rose to 70%, and now, it’s at 83%. More than 95% of these children go on to have a high-skilled career in science. They become US citizens, occupy important positions, pay taxes, and become highly valuable parts of society.

Repealing DACA wasn’t even on the table when the study was conducted, but this just puts even more pressure on an already struggling segment of the population. Lashing out on immigrant children will almost certainly have a brain drain effect. The Trump administration pitched the move as the “least disruptive” option available, but the data seems to suggest otherwise.

In the meantime, White House officials have reportedly fretted that Mr Trump may have not understood exactly what effects rescinding DACA would have. Threatening almost one million children, while also damaging the future of your country’s best people? Sounds like something a president should understand, at the very least.

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