Despite assurances over the course of his presidency that undocumented immigrants brought to the United States by their parents would be protected by this administration, President Trump has announced recently that he is considering ending the deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) program.
DACA was announced by former President Obama in August 2012 as an initiative providing individuals who came to the United States as children and who meet certain other requirements the opportunity to stay in the United States without fear of deportation as well as the ability to obtain work permits. DACA has given these individuals access to jobs, advanced degrees, drivers’ licenses, and often, access to health care through employer-provided insurance.
The Trump administration has been openly struggling with its official stance on DACA since the campaign, at which time they called the program “illegal amnesty.” Since taking office, the president has softened his stance, stating that he “would deal with DACA with heart” and that DACA recipients could, for the time being, “rest easy.” At this time, the administration faces pressure by a group of Republican state lawmakers, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who have threatened to fight DACA in court if the president does not rescind the executive order himself.
To qualify for DACA, undocumented individuals must have entered the United States before age 16, have continuously resided in this country since 2007, must be currently enrolled in school or have a GED, must not have been convicted of felonies or three or more misdemeanors. As of September 2016, almost 800,000 individuals have been approved for DACA.
Unequivocally, DACA has been shown to raise attainment of higher education, improve employment rates, raise family incomes, and improve health outcomes among immigrant populations. DACA recipients have even gone on to apply to medical school, and there are currently almost 200 enrolled at medical schools around the country. There are 5.4 million undocumented immigrants ineligible for healthcare coverage in the United States and DACA recipients training in healthcare are uniquely positioned to bring their personal experiences in order to advocate for these populations. Ending DACA would be a disservice to these students, and perhaps more importantly, to the populations they would have served.
The events in Charlottesville this past month as well as the recent pardoning of Arizona sheriff Joseph Arpaio, were reminders of the racial tensions and hatred that continue to exist in this country. It has, for many Americans, as well as for many physicians, highlighted the importance of advocating for all of our vulnerable populations. Rescinding DACA would be devastating to our immigrant patient populations, and would destroy the fabric of their communities.
Isha M. Di Bartolo is an internal medicine resident.
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