Op-Ed: Protect the Dreamers. America needs students like me to stay on our path to becoming doctors
I am a proud undocumented medical student attending UCLA medical school – a reality that still feels like a dream. It’s a reality thanks to the 2012 Deferred Action Policy for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. However, the DACA program and its beneficiaries remain at risk as the policy could be terminated by court order any day. Unless Congress passes legislation this year, nearly 700,000 DACA recipients — including teachers, parents, students and nurses — risk being forced out of the workforce and facing deportation.
I decided that I was going to pursue medical school in my third year at university. I hoped to become a doctor that people like my family could identify with and rely on – although, because of my immigration status, it was clear from the start that I might never be able to practice as a doctor. as a doctor in the United States. I made the decision to pursue a medical career despite this, because it is important to me that my community be represented in the field of health. I wasn’t discouraged by the fact that I didn’t know any undocumented medical students or undocumented medical practitioners. Living in constant uncertainty for as long as I can remember, I’ve had to develop a sense of resilience to overcome obstacles and continue to pursue my goals.
When DACA passed in 2012, I remember feeling excited and relieved, like a weight had been lifted from me. The policy provides temporary work permits and deportation protections to eligible young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.
The eviction protections gave me a sense of security so that I could continue to live in my hometown without fear of being suddenly uprooted. They allowed me to pursue medical studies.
Work authorization is also critical to the success of the policy, allowing DACA recipients to participate more fully in the workforce, support their families and enrich their communities. This opened the door for me to many opportunities for professional growth, including working in a high school as a college counselor, eligibility for scholarships, and access to other coveted clinical experiences and pre-medical programs. Although DACA was only a temporary solution, it has allowed me to become the doctor my community needs.
I will graduate in a year as an obstetrician and gynecologist. But as I yearn to celebrate my graduation, the program that gave me so many opportunities faces its greatest threat yet.
In July, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments from Texas against the United States, a case that challenges the legality of the DACA program, and a negative ruling is expected soon. The decision could end this year’s ability for current DACA recipients to renew their protections. This would mean that I and 110,000 other Dreamers who work in health care fields will not be able to use our specialized skills and degrees in the job market. In fact, if DACA ends, approximately 1,600 DACA recipients working in the healthcare sector would be forced out of their jobs every month for the next two years. It would be devastating for the US economy and for the patients across the country who rely on these workers.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that healthcare employment will grow 13% between 2021 and 2031. The United States is expected to experience a doctor shortage of up to 124,000 by 2034. This would profoundly affect communities in color, already underserved and receiving less -quality care than their white counterparts. Undocumented students who aspire to work in the medical field are equipped to fill this gap, with many having experienced the challenges of accessing health care themselves, but we may soon no longer be able to do so. The nation needs a permanent legislative solution.
If allowed to become a doctor and practice here in the United States, I will continue to fight health inequities and engage in research and mentorship to empower immigrant communities. My career would also provide me with the financial stability necessary to build my life in the United States — the only place I have ever known — allowing me, one day, to buy my first home and start a family. However, with the DACA program in jeopardy, my aspirations to give back to my community through health care and establish a future in the United States hang in the balance.
Congress has failed for decades to provide a permanent legislative solution to the Dreamers, using the existence of DACA as an excuse for inaction. However, the time is almost up; lawmakers must immediately enact permanent protections for Dreamers and affirm that they are part of the fabric of our country.
Yadira Bribiesca is a student at UCLA School of Medicine.