I’ll remember that Saturday morning in the operating room for the rest of my life. While I’ve shadowed many surgeries before as part of my medical training, this was my first time scrubbing into a surgery. I scrubbed, gowned, and gloved and contemplated the significance of this moment. What a privilege, I thought; it is to walk with patients during some of their most vulnerable times. It felt right; I was calm, yet one thing loomed in the back of my mind. What will happen if one day I cannot practice medicine? Will I be able to bear the news? Would my parents’ sacrifices to ensure I could reach my dreams have been in vain?
I am an undocumented American and if congress does not pass protections for individuals like me, I will graduate from The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and earn an MD degree, but I will not be able to practice medicine. Congress’ inaction will mean returning to a life I thought I’d left behind, a life of heightened alertness and vulnerability where fearing every knock on my door and police officer will become the norm. Driving and travel by plane will no longer be possible therefore separating me from my family.
I immigrated to Silver Spring, Maryland from El Salvador in 2001 when I was eight years old. I remember breathing in the crisp air, speaking my first words in English, and watching in awe as the leaves turned red, yellow and brown. September 11, 2001 was my first Tuesday of school in America. On my walk home I watched the fighter jet covered sky–I lived just a few miles from the Pentagon.
I also remember the first meal we ate out at the local McDonald’s and the first bus ride.
For the first few months my four person family lived in a one bedroom apartment, nonetheless we were happy to be together. We didn’t have health insurance so my mother took my sister and me to children’s free health clinics for our annual physical examinations. Doctors who care for children like my sister and me are part of my inspiration to become a physician. At the time however, I never imagined that one day I would be on the other side, caring for non-insured patients as part of the health care team. I never thought I would graduate from an Ivy League university and return there to pursue my medical training.
The ramifications of congress’ inaction will keep me from practicing medicine and serving communities in need in the United States — the country I call home. A lack of action will also affect millions of individuals who aren’t DREAMers, such as Temporary Protected Status beneficiaries, whose contributions to this country transcend their economic contribution. In my life I have witnessed many extraordinary examples of resilience, selfless sacrifice, and love for country embodied by undocumented Americans. While working tirelessly, we are dehumanized, detained, and told we do not belong by a xenophobic agenda. Even still, we hope that one day we will be seen for who we are — American.
Currently there are approximately 100 DACAmented medical students across the country enrolled at medical schools such as Harvard Medical School, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Yale School of Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Stritch School of Medicine, and others. At least five of these medical students will become newly-minted MDs in May, graduating into an uncertain future as practicing physicians despite a grueling four years of medical school. I too fear that one day when the clock strikes 12:01am and my DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] expires, my dreams of practicing medicine will expire along with it.
Until congress acts, undocumented Americans, including DACA recipients, will continue to be subject to deportation. ICE does not discriminate and will continue to detain whomever they can — DACAmented or not. This is why legislation like the bill introduced last week by Representative Maldonado is needed. While the Trump administration’s end to DACA makes its way through the court system, we must do everything we can at the local and national level to advocate for the protection of undocumented Americans.