Health industry frets about DACA’s fate
Young immigrants make up a notable portion of home aides, medical students
The Latino clients often approach her for help, Jennifer Rodriguez said, recognizing a friendly face and asking in bits of broken English whether their native Spanish is familiar to her.
Rodriguez, 28, works at a psychiatric care facility in Elkhart, Ind., as an administrative assistant, helping clinicians care for children and adolescents with mental illness. Interpreting for clients doesn’t fall under her job description, and her boss sometimes tells her to say no when she’s overwhelmed.
“But I would never do that to my people,” Rodriguez said.
She arrived in Goshen, Ind., from Mexico when she was 3, with no recollection of her birthplace and no documents to prove she belonged in the nation she now calls home. In 2012, President Obama established a policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which granted Rodriguez — and nearly 800,000 others who came to the country as children and do not have documentation to stay — freedom from concerns about being deported and the opportunity to earn a living.
Now the Trump administration is moving to end DACA.
“It’s hurtful that I consider this my home, yet to other people I am an illegal,” she said.
This month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced President Trump would cancel Obama’s executive order that set up DACA. The administration is providing a six-month grace period until the protections end, giving Congress time to pass legislation to address the legal status of these immigrants, known as “DREAMers.” Trump and Democratic law- makers have agreed to work on a plan to allow them to stay in the country, but there are few details, and some conservatives have raised concerns.
No firm statistics exist showing how many DREAMers work in the health care sector, but industry leaders suggest DACA’s end could have an impact, especially among medical students and home health aides.
Multiple health care groups denounced the Trump administration’s move.
A statement released by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) said its members are “extremely dismayed” by the decision.
The American Medical Association said the administration’s announcement “could have severe consequences for many in the health care workforce, impacting patients and our na- tion’s health care system.” It urged Congress to pass a permanent solution.
“The more the administration threatens immigrants and their families and their communities,” said Robert Espinoza, vice president of policy at PHI, a long-term care advocacy group, “the more we threaten that workforce supply.”
The move could force medical students and residents to cut their training short, the AAMC said.
Foreign-born and international medical graduates also tend to work in underserved areas, said Matthew Shick, director of government relations and regulatory affairs at AAMC. Phasing out DACA could also sever a lifeline connection between doctors and populations in sore need of health care.
Sixty-five DREAMers were enrolled in medical schools across the nation during the last academic year, Shick said.
“It sounds like a small number,” he said, “but they’re treating anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 patients in their clinical panel.”
DACA’s end also could have a large impact on the country’s ability to care for patients in a culturally sensitive manner, said Kurt Mosley, vice president of strategic alliances for Merritt Hawkins, a physician recruitment company.
And statistics point to the need: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hispanics — who make up the bulk of DREAMers — are expected to account for nearly 29% of the U.S. population by 2060.
“You know, we’re a nation of diversity, and our workforce should reflect that,” Mosley said. “And (dissolving DACA) is a step backwards.”
Health care already relies on immigrants to fill the ranks. More than a fifth of DREAMers work in the health care or education industries, according to a 2016 survey by groups including the National Immigration Law Center and the Center for American Progress.
One sector of the workforce that heavily relies on foreign-born employees is direct care, which includes nurse aides, home health aides and personal care assistants. According to Espinoza, one-quarter of all such employees are immigrants.
As the population ages, those jobs will continue to be in high demand.
“What our sector needs most is care,” Espinoza said. “And these kinds of federal decisions impede that — it impedes our ability to provide care.”
“We’re a nation of diversity, and our workforce should reflect that. And (dissolving DACA) is a step backwards.”
Kurt Mosley, of Merritt Hawkins, a physician recruitment company
Immigration activists in Newark protest the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.