DACA recipients in the U.S. all face an uncertain future as the Trump administration has proposed ending the program entirely. And an estimated 29,000 Dreamers working in the health care system now face another daily threat to their well-being: the coronavirus.
The Texas-Mexico border is a hub for manufacturing. Most factories are shut down but those that are open, are now making medical supplies and devices badly needed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They Have This Additional Stress (Which Can) Potentially Impact Their Immune System, Making Them More Vulnerable To Getting This Virus”
Approximately 800,000 individuals live with the temporary protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program established in 2012 under President Barack Obama. While it does not grant legal status, it does authorize DACA recipients to work in the U.S., a chance to apply for a Social Security card and protection from deportation.
DACA applications must be renewed every two years but many fear their next renewal period will be their last.
The Trump administration wants to end DACA, arguing the program was created without the proper authority. The case is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, which could render an opinion any day between now and June.
Linda Brandmiller is an immigration attorney in San Antonio who works with DACA recipients, as well as victims of crime, human trafficking and domestic violence. She said a decision to terminate the program would be devastating for the hundreds of thousands DACA recipients.
“These are students that grew up here, we've educated them, they're assimilated and many of them have professional degrees,” said Brandmiller. “So, they are certainly an integral part of the economy and our communities.”
Many could be completely out of work if the program is terminated and their temporary protections expire in the coming months. The hole that would be left in the country’s workforce now faces more severe consequences. Over 200,000 DACA recipients are among those deemed essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic, ranging from teachers, grocery store clerks and even health care workers.
A letter to the Supreme Court by the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School argues “the country (is not) prepared to fill the loss that would result if DACA recipients were excluded from the health care workforce.”
Giuliana Cantu is a registered nurse and considered to be one of those critical health care workers. Cantu, 31, works in the intensive care units at Methodist Hospitals in San Antonio.
She was born in Monterrey, Mexico and like many other Dreamers, has only ever known life in the U.S.
Anxieties associated with the unknown future of her status are now coupled with the risk of being exposed to the deadly virus.
“If (DACA) were to end, that’s it,” Cantu said. “All my dreams, all my family's dreams, would end because I'm the main provider.”
Cantu said Brandmiller has advised her to pursue any opportunity that would lead to a more secure legal status. One option would be requesting her employer, Methodist Hospital, to sponsor her for a Green Card application.
However, Cantu said she’s hesitant about that option because it would require a pay cut. As the main financial provider for her family, Cantu said the move could bring them even more hardships.
Border manufacturers are teaming up in an unusual race to provide life-saving medical supplies and devices during the COVID-19 crisis. The timing couldn’t be more critical.
“Our message is simple,” said Cecilia Levine, founder of the non-profit U.S. Mexico Canada Strategic Alliance. “We are one North American region. We are part of the solution to a problem that has turned our world upside down.”
The framework to collaborate is already in place. The El Paso-Ciudad Juárez region is home to 32 companies making medical devices, 50 suppliers and a workforce of about 40,000 people.
The Medical Center of the America Foundation, an El Paso-based nonprofit, fosters collaboration and innovation among the thriving cluster of medical manufacturers and suppliers on both sides of the border. And the binational effort has become a bright spot during the pandemic.
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