An Obama-era program allowing certain undocumented immigrants to temporarily remain in the United States was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, a decision celebrated by some undocumented students at Loyola.
The program — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA — was introduced in 2012 to help undocumented people who came to the U.S. as children. DACA participants can apply for renewable two-year “deferred action” periods, meaning they’re temporarily protected from deportation and eligible for work authorization, but they aren’t given a pathway to citizenship.
The Trump administration announced it would work to rescind the program in September 2017, stating DACA is “unlawful and unconstitutional and cannot be successfully defended in court.” After lower court judges ruled against the Trump administration on three occasions, the president appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed in June 2019 to review the case.
Jacquelin Solis, a second-year medical student at Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine, said her mom walked into her bedroom with tears of happiness last month on the morning of June 18. The Supreme Court had just ruled to uphold DACA despite the Trump administration’s opposition.
“I just hugged my mom immediately and my mom was crying, and at that moment I also started crying,” Solis, 27, said. “Just to know that the Supreme Court sided with us, I was very thankful.”
Born and raised in Peru, Solis said she immigrated to the U.S. when she was 10 years old for a better life and more opportunities. She said DACA “has allowed me to come out of the shadows.”
Sumbul Siddiqui — who moved from Saudi Arabia to the States when she was 4 — is a second-year medical student at Stritch. Sumbul said she felt “cautious happy” about the June 18 ruling and hopes people don’t give up on the undocumented community.
“It was a lot of feelings throughout the day,” Siddiqui, 27, said. “I’m happy but also cautious, right? Because we don’t know what the Trump administration is going to do next, and are we going to go back and forth again?”
In 2013, one year after DACA was introduced, Stritch became the first medical school in the nation to open its doors to DACA students. In 2018, 82 percent of the national pool of DACA recipients applied to Stritch.
If DACA were to be rescinded, Stritch’s undocumented students — and about 700,000 DACA recipients nationwide — might not be able to continue their education and may even be deported.
There are currently 18 DACA-status students enrolled at Stritch, according to Mark Kuczewski, a Stritch professor and director of Loyola’s Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy. He said 24 others have graduated over the last three years and are now in medical residency — postgraduate training in which physicians practice medicine in hospital settings under supervision.
“There’s residents who have been in residency for three years, [they] are treating patients on the frontlines of the pandemic,” Kuczewski said. “They’re putting their life on the line to treat patients, and the Supreme Court was potentially ripping away their protections and fortunately that did not happen.”
Kuczewski said if DACA was rescinded, Loyola and DACA-status students would face two main problems, which DACA helps solve.
“While we could educate them, when they graduated they couldn’t go on to residency and practice as doctors because residency is a job,” Kuczewski said. “You get paid while you train. … The other problem is financing their education.”
Kuczewski said DACA-status students rely on scholarships from the university and partners who provide loans, and many also borrow private money because they’re unable to receive federal student loans with DACA. Without the prospect of working after education, he said, all of that private money would “dry up.”
“When DACA was created, they thought that was their break,” Kuczewski said. “They thought if they worked hard enough and did well enough, something would have to happen, and they thought DACA was that something. And then the Trump administration tried to rescind it on September 5 of 2017. I mean it was like a punch in the gut for them. And that stress and that fear has been hanging over them.”
After the high court’s ruling June 18, Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney sent a university-wide email calling on the community to support DACA students.
“We ask everyone in the Loyola community to reach out to their members of Congress to advocate for new federal legislation that will provide stability for DACA recipients and their families,” Rooney wrote in the email. “Ask your representatives to codify into law the protections and benefits provided by DACA.”
Cesar Montelongo Hernandez, a 31-year-old in Stritch’s MD/PhD program, said a big misconception people have is that DACA is a long-term solution when, in reality, it’s meant to provide temporary protection for undocumented people. Hernandez, who was about 10 years old when his parents decided to leave Mexico for the U.S., said he’s “terrified” of DACA becoming permanent because it would mean continuing to live “life two years at a time, not knowing what’s going to happen after that.”
“DACA has given us a lot of benefits … but it’s not a permanent solution,” Hernandez said. “I think we should be fighting for a pathway to citizenship so people like me can be normal human beings in this country.”
Ali-Reza Torabi, a second-year medical student at Stritch, said as DACA recipients awaited the Supreme Court’s decision, they were unsure if they would be able to continue their schooling, jobs or their lives as they know it.
Torabi — who was 5 when his family immigrated from Iran to the U.S. — said he was “prepared for everything,” even possible deportation, if the program was rescinded.
“I definitely was happy the day of, but I was also aware that ‘Okay, now the bigger fight starts,’” Torabi, 29, said. “Celebrate today, but get ready to fight tomorrow.”
While the high court sided with DACA, it concluded the way the Trump administration tried to rescind the program was illegal, not the action itself. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — a government agency overseeing the U.S. immigration system — stated June 19 the Supreme Court’s ruling “merely delays the President’s lawful ability to end” DACA, which “is not a long-term solution for anyone.”
“As President of the United States, I am asking for a legal solution on DACA, not a political one, consistent with the rule of law,” Trump tweeted June 18. “The Supreme Court is not willing to give us one, so now we have to start this process all over again.”
The Trump administration’s press office didn’t immediately respond to request for comment.