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Dreamers Are an Essential Part of our Nation’s Health Care

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Since Donald Trump ended DACA last September, hundreds of Dreamers have been losing status every day, and thousands of Dreamers will start losing their ability to work (as well as their protection from deportation) when the program officially ends in March. Among many other things, this may compromise America’s public health system, considering the number of DACA recipients who are doctors, health care workers, and researchers.

Immigrant health care workers are considered one of the solutions to address the nation’s current labor shortage in health care, which is most acute in disadvantaged areas, according to the Migration Policy Institute. By 2026, 2.4 million new health care jobs will further increase our nationwide shortage of health care workers.

As President of Houston Methodist Hospital, Dr. Marc Boom, stated in a letter to Texas Congressional members and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Dreamers working in health care provide a vital service:

Patients do not care about the immigration status of their doctors. Instead, they ask that their doctor or nurse is well-trained, makes the right medical decisions and treats them with respect and care. Dreamers are an essential part of the nation’s health workforce, and federal policies to terminate DACA without a workable solution will only diminish our nation’s health.

Following are examples of DACA recipients who provide vital health care services:

  • Susana Rosas, Methodist nurse who work as a paramedic.
  • Jesus Contreras, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) who became a national hero for saving lives during Hurricane Harvey.
  • Eli Oh, rapid response nurse at Stanford Medical Center.
  • Josue De Luna Navarro, health assistant in Albuquerque who plans to apply to medical school.

Older Americans will suffer with end of DACA

America’s home health care industry also relies heavily upon immigrant workers for positions such as home health care aides, nurses, and health assistants.

The end of DACA would compound an already “disastrous situation in terms of shortages of [health care worker] supply,” as the CEO of a home care company told The New York Times.

The economic impact of terminating DACA would be significant by depriving patients of the help they depend on and increasing the costs of care for families and taxpayers. The country will need more than 1.25 million home health aides by 2024, up from about 900,000 in 2014, according the the U.S. Department of Labor.

One-fifth of all DACA beneficiaries work in the health care and educational sectors, suggesting a potential loss of hundreds of thousands of workers in those fields. According to MIT professor Paul Osterman more than one-quarter of home health aides in 2015 were immigrants. In California, immigrants were nearly one-half home health aides, and in New York, immigrants comprised two-thirds of all home health aides.

An overwhelming majority of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti also work in health care professions, according to the National Immigration Forum.

DACA impact on research and medical students

The American Medical Association (AMA) has urged Congress to retain DACA protections and said that ending the program “could have severe consequences for many in the health care workforce, impacting patients and our nation’s health care system”. They continued:

Estimates have shown that the DACA initiative could help introduce 5,400 previously ineligible physicians into the U.S. health care system in the coming decades…

Removing those with DACA status will particularly create care shortages for rural and other underserved areas.  DACA physicians are more likely to work in high-need areas where communities face challenges in recruiting other physicians.  DACA students are also more likely to be bilingual, to come from diverse cultural backgrounds, and to understand challenges in certain ethnic communities.  Without these physicians, the AMA is concerned that the quality of care provided in these communities will be negatively impacted and that patient access to care will suffer.

In addition to being medical students, health care workers, and doctors, a number of DACA recipients are researchers who are conducting groundbreaking work in health care and the biological sciences:

  • Christian Uga participated in the research program at Princeton University’s Chemistry Department, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, and is currently working at the Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai.
  • Nadia Rojas graduated with a Master of Public Health from UC Davis and works as a Research Assistant for the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley.
  • Saba Nafees is a Dreamer and Ph.D. candidate utilizing mathematics to better understand cancer.
  • Yuriana Aguilar made history as the first DACA recipient to earn a Ph.D. in Quantitative and Systems Biology at UC Merced, and is a researcher in a biomedical lab at the University of California and  instructor at Rush University.

As one Dreamer-doctor told the Atlantic:

If I didn’t have DACA, I would not be able to continue practicing medicine. The patients are here, they’re sick. The day DACA is revoked, I have to take off my white coat.

Last September, over 200 Harvard Medical students (HMS) joined a rally to support four Dreamers attending HMS and the DACA program that lets young doctors like them reach their dreams. The four are:

  • Blanca Morales Temich, who graduated with a degree in neurology from the University of California and plans to become a primary care physician when she graduates from Harvard Medical School in 2020.
  • Anthony Tucker-Bartley, who was able to intern at Cooper Medical School and study heart disease and diabetes at Johns Hopkins University. He won’t be able to complete Harvard Medical School and residency if his permit expires.
  • Dalia Larios Chavez, who earned a degree in genetic cell and molecular biology from Arizona State University and is currently conducting lung cancer research at Harvard Medical School. His DACA expires in October.
  • Alma Oñate Muñoz, who graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a major in chemistry and worries she will not be able to finish Harvard Medical School when her DACA expires in October.

Unless Congress resolves the DACA crisis Trump created when he terminated the program and allows DACA Dreamers to safely continue their medical studies and health care work, our nation’s public health — especially in medically underserved areas — will suffer greatly, with America’s most vulnerable communities paying the price via the loss of vital health care.