After Trump’s DACA Reversal, Prognosis Uncertain for Loyola Medical Students

Sarah Conway September 8, 2017

Students and faculty show support for their DACA status peers at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., on September 6. (Sarah Conway)

MAY­WOOD, Ill.. — Eleven miles west of down­town Chica­go more than 300 med­ical school stu­dents and staff gath­ered at Loy­ola Uni­ver­si­ty Med­ical Center’s sub­ur­ban cam­pus. Some in atten­dance held white ban­ners with slo­gans that said “#Drea­mAct” and “#Here­ToStay.”

Stu­dent orga­niz­ers say they held the event to show sol­i­dar­i­ty and make a uni­fied call for long last­ing leg­is­la­tion to help their fel­low stu­dents at the Stritch School of Med­i­cine, which has about 32 med­ical stu­dents who entered the pro­gram with DACA sta­tus this year, says Mark G. Kuczews­ki, the chair of the Depart­ment of Med­ical Edu­ca­tion at Stritch.

In 2016, approx­i­mate­ly 70 DACA-sta­tus med­ical school stu­dents were enrolled across the U.S., accord­ing to the Asso­ci­a­tion of Amer­i­can Med­ical Col­leges. And cur­rent­ly there are more than 886,000 peo­ple who have been grant­ed DACA sta­tus since the pro­gram was imple­ment­ed by the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion in 2012, accord­ing to data from U.S. Cit­i­zen­ship and Immi­gra­tion Services.

Ale­jan­dra Duran Arreo­la, a 26-year-old sec­ond year med­ical stu­dent with DACA sta­tus, was born in Mex­i­co and came to the U.S. when she was 14. She grew up in Geor­gia where she says reveal­ing your sta­tus puts you at risk to raids and attacks. Study­ing at Stritch gives her a pos­si­bil­i­ty to anoth­er path in life.

The fact that you are here says a lot about who we are at Stritch,” Duran Arreo­la said to the crowd at the sol­i­dar­i­ty event. I am you and you are me. We both wear this white coat with the same purpose…we want to become physi­cians for others.”

Stritch open­ly wel­comes DACA sta­tus stu­dents through sev­er­al ini­tia­tives, accord­ing to Kuczews­ki. An online invi­ta­tion pol­i­cy lists clear instruc­tions on how to apply to Stritch. School offi­cials have been instru­men­tal in cre­at­ing acces­si­ble financ­ing mech­a­nism such as spe­cial loan pro­grams to fund the high cost of med­ical school for DACA sta­tus stu­dents. And sup­port for DACA stu­dents is wide­spread on cam­pus: fac­ul­ty, staff and peers show sup­port for their DACA sta­tus peers through orga­nized ally lunch­es and advo­ca­cy oppor­tu­ni­ties.

They wel­comed us so I knew I could be open about my sta­tus here,” she told her fel­low stu­dents at the sol­i­dar­i­ty event. That I would be wel­come, that I wouldn’t just be tol­er­at­ed here.”

As a stu­dent intern at local health clin­ics, Duran Arreo­la has worked with migrant farm­ers grow­ing Vidalia onions and saw first­hand their poor access to healthcare.

It was women who were work­ing in south Geor­gia, some of them preg­nant and many of them with­out appro­pri­ate health­care,” Duran Arreo­la says. The first time many saw the doc­tor was when they were deliv­er­ing the baby.”

This expe­ri­ence inspired her to apply to med­ical school in order to become a doc­tor spe­cial­iz­ing in obstet­rics and gynaecology.

Many of the 11 mil­lion undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants liv­ing in the U.S. are low-income with lim­it­ed access to jobs offer­ing health insur­ance and exclud­ed from fed­er­al­ly fund­ed insur­ance such as Medicare and Med­ic­aid, accord­ing to the Hast­ings Cen­ter. Duran Arreo­la believes her expe­ri­ence liv­ing as an undoc­u­ment­ed woman in Amer­i­ca may enable her to one day pro­vide bet­ter health­care for undoc­u­ment­ed women, espe­cial­ly migrant laborers.

It seems unfair that in this first world coun­try a lot peo­ple have to work so much and go with­out health­care,” she says.

Joseph Nye, a sec­ond year med­ical stu­dent who attend­ed the sol­i­dar­i­ty ral­ly, wants Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s admin­is­tra­tion to see the val­ue stu­dents with DACA sta­tus bring to the med­ical field.

[DACA-sta­tus stu­dents] have a back­ground that is unlike any oth­er in this coun­try,” says Nye. And the strug­gles they go through on a dai­ly basis, those are things that are nec­es­sary to treat peo­ple in under­served communities.”

Diver­si­ty in the med­i­cine is increas­ing­ly being seen as a solu­tion to expand­ing access to high qual­i­ty health care among nation’s under­served minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties which includes the undoc­u­ment­ed, accord­ing to research from George­town University’s Health Pol­i­cy Institute.

At Stritch there are 11 DACA med­ical stu­dents enrolled who have loans struc­tured through the Illi­nois Finance Author­i­ty and are pledged to four years of ser­vice in under­served areas of Illi­nois after grad­u­a­tion, accord­ing to Kuczewski.

Trump ordered an end to the DACA pro­gram, which shields immi­grants who were brought to the U.S. ille­gal­ly as minors from depor­ta­tion, on Sep­tem­ber 5. That same day he urged Con­gress to pass a replace­ment before a phase out of DACA pro­tec­tions in six months.

Trump’s actions have led to Duran Arreo­la wor­ry­ing about the finan­cial con­se­quences of her deci­sion to become a doc­tor. Before Trump ordered an end to DACA, she expect­ed to grad­u­ate med­ical school in 2020 with over $300,000 in debt. With­out the abil­i­ty to renew her DACA sta­tus she’s unable com­plete her edu­ca­tion and will strug­gle repay­ing her con­sid­er­able stu­dent debt.

Med­ical stu­dents gen­er­al­ly don’t think about the amount of debt that they’re get­ting because… you will get a job,” she says. You will be a doc­tor [and] you will be earn­ing enough mon­ey to pay this debt back easily.”

Class­es at Stritch began at the end of July. Cur­rent DACA stu­dents have been able to start the semes­ter because they were able to sign for their loans this year. The prob­lem is that next year any­one who has expired out of DACA will not be able to secure their fund­ing, says Kuczewski.

So unless the some type of immi­gra­tion reform address­ing DACA is cre­at­ed by mid-win­ter, fourth year med­ical stu­dents at Stritch will not be able to com­plete their res­i­den­cy. So for now, Kuczews­ki is try­ing to fig­ure out how to be help­ful and devel­op solu­tions for the mas­sive debt that many DACA sta­tus med­ical stu­dents hold. 

The rescind­ing of DACA felt mean and cru­el,” he says. These stu­dents came out of the shad­ows on their path to their dream and now they effec­tive­ly were told to go back into the shadows.”

Sarah Con­way is a mul­ti­me­dia jour­nal­ist whose work has appeared in Chica­go mag­a­zine, Chica­go Read­er, South Side Week­ly, New­c­i­ty and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. She’s also a report­ing fel­low at City Bureau, a civic jour­nal­ism lab based on Chicago’s South Side.
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