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Medical Students in Limbo as Young Immigrant Program Ends

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Zarna Patel poses for a portrait at the Loyola University Medical
Zarna Patel poses for a portrait at the Loyola University Medical School in Maywood, Ill, Patel, a third year student

Chicago, October 21: Medical students such as Alejandra Duran  Arreola are trying to shape the debate, and they have the backing of influential medical groups, including the American Medical Association.

Arreola dreams of becoming an OB-GYN in her home state of Georgia, where there’s a shortage of doctors and one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the U.S.

But the 26-year-old Mexican immigrant’s goal is now trapped in the debate over a program protecting hundreds of thousands of immigrants like her from deportation. Whether she becomes a doctor depends on whether Congress finds an alternative to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that President Donald Trump phased out last month.

Arreola, who was brought to the U.S. illegally at age 14, is among about 100 medical students nationwide who are enrolled in DACA, and many have become a powerful voice in the immigration debate. Their stories have resonated with leaders in Washington. Having excelled in school and gained admission into competitive medical schools, they’re on the verge of starting residencies to treat patients, a move experts say could help address the nation’s worsening doctor shortage.

“It’s mostly a tragedy of wasted talent and resources,” said Mark Kuczewski, who leads the medical education department at Loyola University’s medical school, where Arreola is in her second year. “Our country will have said, ‘You cannot go treat patients.’”

The Chicago-area medical school was the first to openly accept DACA students and has the largest concentration nationwide at 32. California and New York also have significant populations, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

DACA gives protection to about 800,000 immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and who otherwise would lack legal permission to be in the country. The immigrants must meet strict criteria to receive two-year permits that shield them from deportation and allow them to work.

Then-President Barack Obama created DACA in 2012. Critics call it an illegal amnesty program that is taking jobs from U.S. citizens. In rescinding it last month, Trump gave lawmakers until March to come up with a replacement.

Public support for DACA is wide. A recent poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that just 1 in 5 Americans want to deport DACA recipients.

Arreola took a break from her studies last month to travel to Washington with fellow Loyola medical students and DACA recipient Cesar Montelongo Hernandez to talk to stakeholders. In their meetings with lawmakers, they framed the program as a medical necessity but also want a solution for others with DACA.

A 2017 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortfall of between about 35,000 and 83,000 doctors in 2025. That shortage is expected to increase with population growth and aging.

Hernandez, a 28-year-old from Mexico simultaneously pursuing a Ph.D., wants to focus his research on early detection of diseases. His work permit expires next September, and he’s worried he won’t qualify for scientific research funding without the program.

“I’ve shown I deserve to be here,” said Hernandez, who met with Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat who’s called for Congress to quickly pass a replacement for DACA.

For Arreola it’s about returning to the state she’s called home since she was 14 and giving back to areas in need of doctors.

“My family is from there; I know those people,” Arreola said. “Those are the people that inspired to really give this a push.”

Among those Arreola met with were policy staff for Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, who believes the Obama program was “an overreach of executive power” but also wants Congress to write a plan to protect DACA recipients.

Medical school administrators say the immigrant medical students stand out even among their accomplished peers: They’re often bilingual and bicultural, have overcome adversity and are more likely to work with underserved populations or rural areas.

“They come with a cultural competency for how to best treat the individuals from their background, whether immigrants or different races and ethnicities,” said Matthew Shick, a government relations director for the Association of American Medical Colleges. “That gets translated over to their peers in education and training.”

Zarna Patel, 24, is a third-year student at Loyola who was brought to the U.S. from India as a 3-year-old without any legal documents. Her DACA permit expires in January, and she’s trying to renew it so she can continue medical school rotations that require clinical work. If she’s able to work in U.S., Patel will work in disadvantaged areas of Illinois for four years, part of her agreement to get school loans.

“Growing up, I didn’t have insurance,” she said. “I knew what that felt like, being locked out of the whole system.”

For others, there’s added worry of being stuck with debt they can’t repay.

Marcela Zhou, who was born in Mexico after her family moved there from China, is in her third year at the University of California at Los Angeles’ medical school. She wants to work in public health.

“Can I even afford to finish medical school?” said Zhou, who was 12 when she came to the U.S. on a visitor visa that eventually expired. “It’s sort of hard sometimes to keep going.”(VOA)

Next Story

U.S. To Expands Indefinite Detention for Asylum-Seekers

The decision will have no impact on unaccompanied migrant children, who are exempt from expedited removal. Most families are also paroled because of a lack of facilities to hold parents and children together.

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Attorney General William Barr appears before a House Appropriations subcommittee to make his Justice Department budget request, April 9, 2019, in Washington. VOA

The U.S. Attorney General on Tuesday struck down a decision that had allowed some asylum-seekers to ask for bond in front of an immigration judge, in a ruling that expands indefinite detention for some migrants who must wait months or years for their cases to be heard.

The first immigration court ruling from President Donald Trump’s newly appointed Attorney General William Barr is in keeping with the administration’s moves to clamp down on the asylum process as tens of thousands of mostly Central Americans cross into the United States asking for refuge. U.S. immigration courts are overseen by the Justice Department and the Attorney General can rule in cases to set legal precedent.

Barr’s ruling is the latest instance of the Trump administration taking a hard line on immigration. This year the administration implemented a policy to return some asylum-seekers to Mexico while their cases work their way through backlogged courts, a policy that has been challenged with a lawsuit.

Several top officials at the Department of Homeland Security were forced out this month over Trump’s frustrations with an influx of migrants seeking refuge at the U.S. southern border.

U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehend undocumented migrants after they illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in Mission, Texas, April 9, 2019.
U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehend undocumented migrants after they illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in Mission, Texas, April 9, 2019. VOA

Migrants crossing illegally

Barr’s decision applies to migrants who crossed illegally into the United States.

Typically, those migrants are placed in “expedited removal” proceedings, a faster form of deportation reserved for people who illegally entered the country within the last two weeks and are detained within 100 miles (160 km) of a land border.

Migrants who present themselves at ports of entry and ask for asylum are not eligible for bond.

But before Barr’s ruling, those who had crossed the border between official entry points and asked for asylum were eligible for bond, once they had proved to asylum officers they had a credible fear of persecution.

“I conclude that such aliens remain ineligible for bond, whether they are arriving at the border or are apprehended in the United States,” Barr wrote.

Barr said such people can be held in immigration detention until their cases conclude, or if the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decides to release them by granting them “parole.” DHS has the discretion to parole people who are not eligible for bond and frequently does so because of insufficient detention space or other humanitarian reasons.

Effective date delayed

Barr said he was delaying the effective date by 90 days “so that DHS may conduct the necessary operational planning for additional detention and parole decisions.”

The decision’s full impact is not yet clear, because it will in large part depend on DHS’ ability to expand detention, said Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas.

“The number of asylum-seekers who will remain in potentially indefinite detention pending disposition of their cases will be almost entirely a question of DHS’ detention capacity, and not whether the individual circumstances of individual cases warrant release or detention,” Vladeck said.

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The decision will have no impact on unaccompanied migrant children, who are exempt from expedited removal. Most families are also paroled because of a lack of facilities to hold parents and children together. Pixabay

DHS officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision. The agency had written in a brief in the case arguing that eliminating bond hearings for the asylum seekers would have “an immediate and significant impact on … detention operations.”

Record detentions

In early March, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the DHS agency responsible for detaining and deporting immigrants in the country illegally, said the average daily population of immigrants in detention topped 46,000 for the 2019 fiscal year, the highest level since the agency was created in 2003. Last year, Reuters reported that ICE had modified a tool officers have been using since 2013 when deciding whether an immigrant should be detained or released on bond, making the process more restrictive.

The decision will have no impact on unaccompanied migrant children, who are exempt from expedited removal. Most families are also paroled because of a lack of facilities to hold parents and children together.

Also Read: U.S. President Donald Trump Vetoes Measure to End U..S Involvement in Yemen War

Michael Tan, from the American Civil Liberties Union, said the rights group intended to sue the Trump administration over the decision, and immigrant advocates decried the decision.

Barr’s decision came after former Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided to review the case in October. Sessions resigned from his position in November, leaving the case to Barr to decide. (VOA)