My Dream: A DACA Student's Perspective

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“I wish to disclose my current status as a DACA student to the admissions committee and my plan to pursue avenues of residency or citizenship, if they become available to me.”

This phrase was my answer to the question, “Is there anything else you wish to tell us?” that is commonplace in medical school secondary applications. I finished the last of my secondaries just before the Trump administration announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). What will happen now?

I am originally from a small rural community in Michoacán, Mexico, where I spent the first years of my childhood. When I was 5, my family immigrated to San Francisco with the hope that my brother and I would have the opportunity for a higher quality of life. After completing kindergarten with a firm grasp of English, we moved to Indianapolis due to the high cost of living in California.

Growing up, I was unaware that I did not hold lawful citizenship status. As a teenager, I tried to apply for my driver’s license and discovered I was ineligible. Subsequently, I learned I could not legally work in the U.S. Additionally, during my college application process, I realized I could not check the U.S. Citizen/Permanent Resident box on applications and had to instead select International Student. I had lived in the United States for over 10 years at this point, and to learn about my status was disheartening.

Around the same time, President Barack Obama established DACA, which would go on to open doors of opportunity for not just myself but many others in similar situations. With the help of an immigration lawyer, my family prepared my application for the DACA program so that I could gain work authorization and a driver’s license.

Two years later, I was fortunate to receive a combination of scholarships that would allow me to attend Indiana University and continue my dream of higher education. I was also able to begin doing research, which solidified my interest in pursuing a career as a physician-scientist.

I am now a senior, finishing my degrees in microbiology and neuroscience and in the midst of the MD-PhD application cycle. The decision to end DACA was devastating to me and left me wondering about the outlook of my life. Of the 1,936 MD-PhD applicants last year, there were 649 matriculants with only 27 of them being international students. My chances at admission were already slim to begin with, and the decision to end DACA will potentially decrease my chances even further. MD-PhD programs are generally 7-8 years long, followed by a residency or other training programs. The lack of a driver’s license would be an inconvenience, but not having work authorization would completely erase my chances at a career after the MD-PhD program.

The decision to end DACA is a reversal to progress. Instead of inspiring me to dream and be productive, I am once again faced with no means of making a life for myself in the U.S. Last year, 65 DACA students enrolled into MD programs and the number of DACA students currently enrolled or already graduated is unclear. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has projected a rising physician shortage, which would only be further affected by this loss of capable students. Students in other fields face this same roadblock.  We all now face ambiguity in the future, despite our accomplishments.

The future of immigration policy, especially with regard to Dreamers, is uncertain, but I am hopeful for a positive resolution. I have faced several obstacles on my journey so far, but there has always been a way to move forward. I want to be a physician-scientist who contributes to the body of knowledge through research and who treats patients in the clinic. This is my dream and there are at least 800,000 other Dreamers, all with their own dreams. To me, the United States can only be a land of opportunity when everyone is given the means to achieve their dreams. Until then, I will keep on dreaming.