Loyola University’s medical school is taking a bold stand on immigration rights: For the first time, the Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood is accepting undocumented students as doctors-in-training. The decision, announced in June, makes Stritch the first medical school in the country to allow students to apply under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals order, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Under the new DACA executive order, adopted on June 15, 2012, individuals under the age of 31 who arrived in the United States illegally at 16 years or younger are now able to apply for a work permit, social security card or other such documents while working toward becoming a legal United States citizen.
DACA is an extension of the Dream Act, passed in December 2010, that provides conditional permanent residency to some immigrants of “good moral character,” who have graduated from United States high schools and lived in the U.S. since they were minors.
Dr. Linda Brubaker, dean and chief diversity officer of the Stritch School of Medicine, says that she has been receiving inquiries about accepting undocumented students under the Dream Act for years, but it wasn’t until DACA was adopted that the school was finally able to find a way to admit them.
“We didn’t think that they’d be able to get a [medical] license and without that we thought running up the tuition bill for medical school — which is easily $200,000 plus living expenses — would be inappropriate,” Brubaker said. “So once they have that [DACA] status they are eligible for a work permit and once they have a work permit they can get a Social Security number legally. And once they have a Social Security number they can become licensed physicians in the state of Illinois,” said Brubaker.
The next hurdle for immigrant students, according to Brubaker, was finding funding. She said the medical school worked closely with the state government to find a way to help these students complete their education.
“That will be done through the state of Illinois, through the Illinois Finance Authority, and those students will have access to loans for tuition and fees because unlike most of the medical students, they’re not eligible for federal loans.”
The Stritch School of Medicine has worked hard to establish itself as a place of diversity, according to Brubaker. Brubaker and the rest of the staff feel that by being the first medical school in the country to admit DACA students they will continue to be at the forefront of diversity. They feel that this diversity helps them to further their mission as a Jesuit-run medical school.
“They bring a diverse experience and enriched life experience and a perspective unlike most of the other students in our school. There’s no question about that,” Brubaker said.
The decision by Stritch to begin accepting undocumented students has been met with some opposition. Brubaker explains that some people believe that this is a purely political move by a liberal Jesuit University, but Brubaker believes that this decision is about education and helping others further their education.
“Their immigration status is a matter of law and that’s the law of the land, so we are not doing a political action; we are offering an educational opportunity that’s founded in the social justice of what our school has done in history,” said Brubaker.
She also believes that by accepting medical students under DACA, the school and its students will be able to better serve the communities from which the undocumented students come. For most students who will be applying under DACA higher education — let alone medical school — is not something that is easily attainable.
“It meets our mission of reaching out to underserved populations because we know people who come from underserved populations are more likely to return to those underserved populations and this is a group that is simply unmet,” she said.
Although Stritch announced its intentions to begin serving DACA students this June, the university believes the first wave of DACA students will not enter the medical school until July 2014. Brubaker and her staff hope that, while the school is a frontrunner in this decision, it will not be the only medical school to allow DACA students to enroll.
Brubaker said, “We’re happy to be the first — we sure don’t want to be the last.”