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If Congress doesn't save DACA, 62,000 health care professionals could be deported

If Congress doesn't save DACA, 62,000 health care professionals could be deported
© Greg Nash

The Trump’s administration’s immigration policy is threatening public health. Any day, the Supreme Court could allow the White House to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and begin deporting the 62,600 “Dreamers” who work in health care. This is worrisome, since the White House itself now projects roughly 3,000 daily deaths from COVID-19 by early June. 

Even before the pandemic, America was facing a critical health care shortage. The country will be short 122,000 doctors by 2032, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. “Dreamers” are vital to filling these gaps. The U.S. has approximately 250 DACA medical students as well as 6,630 registered nurses, 9,354 medical assistants, 5,813 nursing assistants and 4,517 licensed practical and vocational nurses who are DACA-eligible, according to New American Economy

 

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These professionals have a vital role to play. It’s why, as chair of medical education at Stritch Medical School at Loyola University, I helped our medical school become one of the first in the nation to accept “Dreamers.” They have the cultural fluency to effectively reach patients from vulnerable communities, especially other undocumented immigrants who might not otherwise seek care. That’s vital in a pandemic; we cannot contain the virus if sick people are afraid to get treatment.  

 

Dr. Emelin Garcia Nieto, a Loyola alumna who is now a resident in pediatrics, grew up in a “mixed status” family where her brothers and sisters were citizens but she was undocumented. As children, when her siblings fell ill, her parents took them to the pediatrician. But when she got sick, they kept her home. When she finally learned about her immigration status as a teenager, she decided to become “the pediatrician for kids who can’t go to the pediatrician.”

 

Dr. Johana Mejias-Beck, another Loyola alumna with DACA status, has been able to empathize with the stress and sadness some of her undocumented patients exhibit. She has also created resources to help other physicians put their undocumented patients at ease and feel safe in coming to the clinic. 

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Who could possibly gain by ripping Dr. Garcia Nieto, Dr. Mejias-Beck and their colleagues from our workforce? Our “Dreamer” graduates are supposed to take their skills to a high-need community, most likely in a rural area, after residency, a condition of the state loan program that helps them cover their tuition. Today, 135 rural counties lack a single physician, according to New American Economy. Now imagine what will happen to these communities when they are struck by COVID-19. 

 

The Supreme Court seems ready to side with President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign slams Facebook after thousands of ads blocked by platform's pre-election blackout Mnuchin says he learned of Pelosi's letter to him about stimulus talks 'in the press' Harris to travel to Texas Friday after polls show tie between Trump, Biden MORE on ending DACA. But all of this could be salvaged with swift legislative action. Last June, the House of Representatives passed the Dream and Promise Act, which provides a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers.” Now we need the Senate to act: Protect our students and the country.

 

We can’t afford to put even one doctor out of work because of his or her immigration status. Even the White House’s 60-day immigration ban, announced late last month, still allows essential workers into the country. “Dreamers” have been living here since they were children. They grew up in American cities and towns and went to American high schools. Now thousands of them work in American hospitals. “Dreamer” doctors, nurses, health aides and medical technicians are the answer to our prayers. It’s time the Senate answered theirs.

Mark Kuczewski is a professor of medical ethics and director of the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy at Stritch School of Medicine at Loyola University Chicago.