On a chilly and gray afternoon in the Chicago suburb of Maywood, 12 of the 28 students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status at Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine gathered to share with AMA President Andrew W. Gurman, MD, their fears of deportation and the loss of DACA protections that could deny their dreams of becoming physicians.
“I really came to listen,” said Dr. Gurman, a hand surgeon from Altoona, Pa. “I cannot even begin to fathom your stories, the angst that you face and that your families face. The AMA is absolutely committed to supporting you, to supporting equity, diversity, freedom, opportunity … and we advocate on your behalf.”
The students at Stritch were born in countries all over the world: South Korea, Guatemala, the U.K., Mexico, Trinidad and India; but all of these students identify as Americans because they call nowhere else in the world “home.”
One student, Belsy Garcia, was born in Guatemala, but at age 7 was brought by her parents to Georgia—where she grew up and completed high school.
“And then I started seeing the limitations that come with being undocumented, the restrictions on the opportunities that you get,” Garcia told Dr. Gurman. And she didn’t think an undergraduate degree was possible.
“No funding whatsoever, but I think my parents instilled in me that hard work ethic, and that you should fight, right?” she said. “Just give it all you’ve got and see where that leads. With that thinking, I was able to graduate undergrad.”
Then in 2013, one year after the DACA executive order was signed, doors finally opened, Garcia said. “I was able to get my license; able to work … I could finally take the MCAT because, to take the MCAT, you have to provide a Social Security number.”
“Before that, my dreams were going to be put on hold,” she said. “So when DACA came about, it just lit me up! I had more drive, more motivation to keep going, and I actually became a nursing assistant before applying [to med school].”
Now, Garcia is a second-year medical student like any other, worried about the upcoming USMLE Step 1 examination. But she has other worries unique to her fellow DACA students: “The safety of my parents, my family, my friends, my future here, which is uncertain,” she said. “I think we’ve always been stuck in this sort of limbo of not knowing exactly what’s going to happen, but the fact that we keep trying and we keep looking to a brighter, hopefully better, future, I think speaks a lot about us and how much we want to give back to our communities.”
In a recent New York Times essay, Garcia reflected on the sudden change in the political atmosphere and what it means for her future.
“I’m halfway done with my second year, almost halfway done with medical school, and almost halfway done with achieving my dream of completing my MD degree,” she wrote. “Now, the word ‘almost’ carries so much weight.”
Bipartisan bill would extend DACA
Two senators and two representatives representing both sides of the aisle have introduced the “Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy Act,” which would provide protection from deportation for undocumented young immigrants who have DACA status.
The AMA recently expressed its support for the proposed law, also called the BRIDGE Act, in letters to its original sponsors: Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Richard Durbin, D-Ill.; and Reps. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., and Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.
“These individuals help contribute to a diverse and culturally responsive physician workforce, which in turn helps benefit not only traditionally underserved patients, but all patients as well,” AMA Executive Vice President and CEO James L. Madara, MD, wrote in the letter.