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Biden Preserves DACA but Recipients Urge for a More Permanent Solution

Courtesy of Loyola University ChicagoIn 2013, Loyola's Stritch School of Medicine became the first medical school to accept DACA recipients. Current DACA students, at Stritch and elsewhere, are still worried about what the future of DACA looks like.

When President Joe Biden issued a memo ordering the preservation and fortification of a 2012 Obama-era policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, many recipients let out a sigh of relief. Since 2017, they had been “living in limbo” as former President Trump tried to rescind the program. 

Under the policy, people who came to the U.S. under the age of 16 and met certain guidelines could apply to have any removal actions deferred for a two-year period. 

While this doesn’t offer legal status, it does allow for those who fall under the policy to seek work authorization, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Elvas Saldias, a second-year law student at Loyola’s School of Law, said he became a DACA recipient when he was 20. He came to the U.S. from Bolivia when he was nine years old. He said he and his family entered the U.S. legally on a visa but when the visa expired, they became undocumented.

“Growing up undocumented means you don’t have a form of ID, you fear that you could be deported or someone in your family could be deported. You just feel a little different.” 

Elvas Sadias, DACA recipient and second-year law student at Loyola’s School of Law

“Growing up undocumented means you don’t have a form of ID, you fear that you could be deported or someone in your family could be deported,” Saldias, 28, said. “You just feel a little different.” 

In addition to Saldias and others at Loyola’s law school, there are 20 DACA students enrolled at Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine with an additional 25 alumni in residency, according to Mark Kuczewski, a Stritch professor and director of Loyola’s Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy.

Since the Trump administration began making efforts to get rid of DACA in 2017, The Phoenix previously reported, Saldias said he has spent the past four years living in uncertainty, not knowing if or when DACA would be rescinded. 

This uncertainty was echoed by Kuczewski who said during the last four years, there were problems finding financial aid for DACA students. This led to students either not applying for medical school or taking on more debt at higher interest rates from non-preferred lenders. 

Saldias said he’s happy with the recent policy moves made by the Biden administration in regard to immigration, particularly Biden’s proposed immigration plan and his actions undoing Trump-era policies on the southern border. 

“I think, you know, the battle then shifts to Congress to see if they can work something out,” Saldias said. “But, I’m satisfied with the efforts that the administration is making. I want to see results like everybody else, I just don’t know exactly how we get that done.”

Saldias said DACA is only a temporary solution, citing a June 2020 Supreme Court ruling as an example. Back in June, the Supreme Court upheld DACA, stating the Trump administration had improperly rescinded the policy, The Phoenix previously reported

This and a U.S. District Court ruling in December temporarily preserved DACA but left the door open for another administration to rescind the policy, which is something Saldias said worries him.

“Things could be bad again because this program was never meant to be in existence 10 to 12 years down the road,” Saldias said. “It was meant to be a temporary solution to the broader problem of undocumented Americans.” 

Similar sentiments were expressed by another DACA recipient, Cesar Montelongo Hernandez. Hernandez, 31, is a second-year medical student at Stritch. He previously spoke with The Phoenix in July 2020 when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of DACA. 

Hernandez described the months since then as a “rollercoaster” between the court rulings, the election and the presidential transition. He said while he and many other DACA recipients breathed a sigh of relief at the election and transition, there’s still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding DACA. 

“It can be threatened every time there’s a change in the administration. So even now, just how we’ve had a lot of relief upon President Biden taking office right away, the same could happen with the next administration if we have a president who does not approve of DACA.” 

Cesar Montelongo Hernandez, a DACA recipient and a second-year medical student at Stritch

“It can be threatened every time there’s a change in the administration,” Hernandez said. “So even now, just how we’ve had a lot of relief upon President Biden taking office right away, the same could happen with the next administration if we have a president who does not approve of DACA.” 

Hernandez talked about the importance of getting legal status, even if it means a potential 10-year wait for citizenship as proposed in Biden’s immigration plan. 

“Ideally I would want to adjust my status tomorrow, but just the idea that I would have a permanent status right away with a pathway to citizenship,” Hernandez said. “I can’t realistically ask for more. Especially if it will be effective, not just for DACA recipients, but everyone before this year.” 

Kuczewski said Stritch has a long history of supporting undocumented and DACA students. The support began in 2011 after another university contacted Stritch about getting undocumented students into medical school, so Kuczewski began researching the matter, he said.

Kuczewski said he found the biggest issues for undocumented students entering medical school are the inability to apply for federal aid and the lack of a work permit. The permit is required for students to enter residency, a paid part of medical training. DACA negates the second problem. In 2013, Stritch became the first medical school to admit DACA students. 

Kuczewski said he was heartened by the Biden administration’s actions preserving DACA. He talked about how students will now have the opportunity to travel abroad and obtain legal status through marriage. 

He also said he expects the financial situation for DACA students to improve, and that more DACA students may enroll at Stritch as a result.

“We think our numbers are going to go up, and we’re gonna be able to matriculate more DACA recipients and be able to finance them equitably,” Kuczewski said. 

Like Saldias and Hernandez, Kuczewski emphasized the problems with treating DACA as a permanent solution. He talked about how there’s already litigation against DACA from the Texas Attorney General and described DACA as “second-class citizenship.”

“The people who have DACA have to rely on makeshift financial aid programs, rather than simply being able to get a student loan from the federal government and do not have any of the privileges of being a US citizen and all the things that go with that, ” Kuczewski said. “And no matter what you do, no matter how much you contribute, you can’t fix it.” 

The memo is one of 10 executive actions President Biden has taken with regard to immigration since taking office Jan. 20.

A previous version of this story said there are 45 DACA recipients enrolled at Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine. That was incorrect — the correct number is 20.

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