Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine’s recent announcement that it would accept applications from Dreamers – young undocumented immigrants eligible for Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status – is an innovative and welcome response to the promise implicit in DACA. The idea that young people who had been brought to the U.S. as children should be freed from the threat of deportation, allowed to work legally, and encouraged to complete their education offers, in the form of public policy, a vision of an open future in which young people have options and are not constrained by their current legal and socio-economic status. Through organizational policy, Loyola Stritch School of Medicine now offers eligible DACA beneficiaries a pathway to American professional life. This medical school has also offered our society a new way of thinking about today’s undocumented immigrants: as our future physicians.
Once they enroll in medical school, future “undocumented doctors” will be eligible to buy health insurance through Loyola, which requires all students to do so if they are not already insured, with the premium cost being part of the calculation used to determine aid packages. However, Dreamers currently face the same barriers to access to health care and health insurance as do other undocumented immigrants. The Obama Administration’s announcement of the DACA program in June 2012 was followed, two months later, by the clarification that DACA beneficiaries would not be eligible for “public benefits,” including the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicaid, and the insurance provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It is difficult to reconcile the idea that young undocumented immigrants should be encouraged to be stakeholders in American society, through work, education, or military service, with the idea that they should be left out of the reform of the American health care system, including ACA initiatives that aim to promote insurance coverage among young adults and among Hispanics, who constitute 80 percent of the undocumented population.
This built-in tension – between the future of the Dreamers and the health of the Dreamers – is the subject of a video, “Dreaming of Healthcare,” produced by the California Endowment, a health care philanthropy concerned about the problem of the residually uninsured, including those who are excluded from the insurance provisions of the ACA. In the video, California Dreamers ask, “Health care for everyone? Does everyone include me?” When the ACA is fully implemented in 2014, young immigrants and their advocates will be watching for an answer to this question.
Nancy Berlinger and Michael Gusmano are research scholars at The Hastings Center and co-directors of the Undocumented Patients project.