Following President Trump's decision to dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, more than 70 medical groups are asking Congress to pass legislation ensuring that unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as children can continue their education and employment in the health care fields.
There are currently about 100 DACA recipients enrolled in medical schools nationwide, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Yet these students can't access federal student loans. Without DACA, they won't be authorized to work as residents after medical school.
By providing a legal pathway to permanent residency for this group, "Congress can help our country produce a diverse and culturally responsive health care workforce to meet the needs of underserved populations, improve cultural awareness, and promote health equity," the medical groups said in a Sept. 14 letter to the leaders of the House and Senate.
DACA recipients contribute to diversity in health professions classrooms, increasing all students' abilities to provide culturally competent care, it added.
The letter's signatories include the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and numerous health care-related academic associations.
People on DACA can also help combat the doctor shortage, especially in poor areas, said Matthew Shick, director of government relations with the Association of American Medical Colleges, another signatory on the letter.
"These are individuals that are coming from minority and multicultural backgrounds and as a result, they're more likely to go into underserved communities," he said.
Erick Leyva, 25, is a UCLA graduate and DACA recipient who wants to go to medical school. He hopes to become a primary care provider serving communities of color in Orange County.
President Trump's move to dismantle the program has not changed his plans, he said.
"The current situation that our community finds ourselves in is very temporary and these goals that we have are long-term goals," Leyva said.
There's a huge need for doctors like Leyva in California, said Allen Rodriguez, a fourth-year medical student at UCLA who started a group there for medical students in the U.S. illegally.
The health care workforce in Southern California "doesn't accurately reflect the diversity of populations that we have living in L.A.," he said.