“I voluntarily put my life at risk,” said one DACA recipient who works as an intensive care nurse in California.
Nearly 30,000 frontline healthcare workers helping to fight COVID-19 are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or (DACA) recipients. And despite the daily terrors of becoming infected themselves or infecting family, they equally live in fear that they could lose their right to work and be vulnerable to deportation.
Ana Cueva, an intensive care nurse in Sacramento, California, is one of those workers. In an interview with NBC News, she said that she has a permit to work in the United States for two more years after she renewed her DACA application in February. “There is not a time of day when I don’t think that maybe this was the last time I could renew my DACA. I am here,” she said. “I voluntarily put my life at risk and go to work happily.”
In the coming months, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on whether or not President Trump has the legal authority to end the Obama-era DACA program or side with the lower courts and keep DACA in place. There are more than 700,000 Dreamers—immigrants who came to the U.S. as children without authorization—who have been allowed to study and work in the U.S. because of DACA.
On Wednesday, Senate Democrats sent President Trump a letter asking him to extend work authorizations for recipients of the DACA and Temporary Protected Status (TPP) programs due to the coronavirus crisis. “Your Administration can immediately ease burdens for thousands of American families,” they wrote, “and prevent further, unnecessary economic disruptions during this public health emergency by automatically extending employment authorizations for DACA and TPS recipients and other impacted immigrants.”
Immigrant advocates have also asked the Supreme Court to either delay the DACA ruling amidst the coronavirus pandemic or continue the program, given the deadly impact the virus is having on immigrant communities.
“The public health crisis now confronting our nation illuminates the depth of those interests as borne by employers, civil society, state and local governments, and communities across the country, and especially by healthcare providers,” reads a filing to the Supreme Court in March. “Furthermore, it throws into sharp relief DACA recipients’ important contributions to the country and the significant adverse consequences of eliminating their ability to live and work without fear of imminent deportation. These are the very consequences the agency failed to consider.”
Matthew Shick, senior director for the Association of American Medical Colleges, told ABC News it was paramount to keep as many medical professionals in place as possible during this critical time.
“I think it’s a testament for those that have already completed their education and training and are choosing a profession in the health space where they’re giving back to society that now even with the risk of potentially losing their work authorization and their DACA status in the next three months, they’re still at the front lines risking their lives to treat those patients and address this pandemic,” Shick said.
“The risk of a pandemic also continues to grow,” the brief stated, “since infectious diseases can spread around the globe in a matter of days due to increased urbanization and international travel. These conditions pose a threat to America’s health security — its preparedness for and ability to withstand incidents with public-health consequences. To ensure health security, the country needs a robust health workforce. Rescinding DACA, however, would deprive the public of domestically educated, well-trained, and otherwise qualified health.”
New York City medical student Denisse Rojas helps coordinate medical equipment for her hospital. She told NBC News she would help regardless of the decision on DACA.
“But it feels surreal to know that I am about to graduate, that my colleagues will be able to start practicing and that there is a possibility that I cannot,” she said. “The beneficiaries of the program need stability, certainty,” she adds. “And people will realize that we must be here because we have so much to contribute.”