Confusion reigns over status of ‘dreamers’ and consequences to healthcare

Medical education
The future of DACA got bounced around like a ping pong ball this week, leaving many medical school students protected by the program in limbo.

The status of a potential deal on DACA between President Donald Trump and leading Democrats seemed to change by the minute this week, leaving questions about the future of so-called dreamers and the impact on the healthcare system.

In a week of conflicting statements, the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an immigration program that offers protection to numerous medical students, remains uncertain.

Trump said yesterday he’s close to a deal with Congress that would protect young undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children, according to USA Today.  But that was before lots of confusing back and forth.

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RELATED: Future of ‘dreamer’ doctors in jeopardy as Trump rescinds DACA status; medical community ‘dismayed’ by the decision

Following a dinner with Trump at the White House Wednesday, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Charles Schumer, the top Democrats in the House and Senate, respectively, announced there was a deal on DACA. But Trump’s Twitter posts on Thursday morning disputed that announcement, saying “no deal was made last night on DACA.” But then the president yesterday seemed to contradict his tweets, indicating he would support legislation to protect the dreamers from deportation if it were accompanied by an upgrade to border security, The New York Times reported.

And a federal judge in Brooklyn yesterday urged the Trump administration to extend its deadline for undocumented immigrants to apply to stay in the U.S. under DACA, the Times also reported

Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced it would rescind DACA. The decision drew harsh criticism from the medical community because of its possible effect on medical students with DACA status who could lose their work permits and won’t be able to go on to a residency or work with underserved populations.

That concern persisted this week. Seventy healthcare organizations, including the Association of American Medical Colleges, sent a letter (PDF) Thursday urging Congress to provide a legal pathway to permanent residency for those with DACA status. 

“By providing a legal pathway to permanent residency for undocumented Americans brought to the U.S. as children, Congress can help our country produce a diverse and culturally responsive healthcare workforce to meet the needs of underserved populations, improve cultural awareness and promote health equity,” the groups wrote in a letter to House and Senate leaders.

RELATED: ‘Dreamer’ docs worry about immigration nightmare

A decision to rescind DACA, a program introduced by the Obama administration, would have serious public health consequences, according to a perspective piece published this week in The New England Journal of Medicine. The authors said that rescinding DACA will have an adverse population-level effect on mental health, because removing legal protections from deportation reduces the likelihood dreamers will seek help for mental health issues. “Rescinding DACA therefore represents a threat to public mental health, and it is a humanitarian imperative for healthcare providers and public health officials to take an active role in countering that threat,” they wrote.

Also this week, delegates meeting in San Antonio directed the American Academy of Family Physicians to stand strongly against plans to rescind DACA, according to Medscape.

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