Doctors’ groups urge Congress to act on DACA to protect healthcare workers and students

Medical education
Doctor groups want to see quick action by Congress on DACA to clear up the future for medical students and residents.

Medical groups from across the country have urged congressional leaders to act quickly to come up with a permanent fix to protect so-called Dreamers.

Some 60 organizations that represent health professionals sent a letter (PDF) on Wednesday urging Congress to ensure that healthcare workers and students protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program can continue their employment, education, training and research in the U.S. The letter was signed by leading medical groups, including the American Medical Association, the country’s largest physician group.

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

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In September, the Trump administration announced plans to end DACA, which allows young people brought to the U.S. by their parents without proper documentation to stay and work here. The administration is providing a six-month grace period until the protections end and told Congress to come up with a permanent fix before current recipients lose their protected status in March.

“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, promote health equity and avoid unnecessary disruption in our education and training systems,” the Dec. 13 letter said.

The groups also expressed worry about medical students with protected status under DACA who began submitting applications to residency programs last September, a day after the administration rescinded the executive order by former President Barack Obama that put the DACA program in place.

The medical groups said teaching hospitals and medical schools are currently interviewing applicants, and in January both will submit their rank order lists for the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), or “Match.” In a statement (PDF) issued on Tuesday, the NRMP also voiced worries that the uncertainty about those trainees’ immigration status jeopardizes their residency match and leaves hospitals with tough choices.

The NRMP said the administration’s visa restrictions will also have a significant impact on the Match. That worry was fueled by the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows enforcement of Trump’s travel ban, which makes citizens from eight countries—Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad, Venezuela and North Korea—subject to possible visa restrictions.

"Applicants affected by the visa restrictions or who are beneficiaries of the DACA program already are applying for and interviewing at residency and fellowship programs, even though it is not certain they will be permitted to enter or remain in the U.S. by the start of training," the statement said. "That uncertainty leaves programs the choice of not ranking qualified applicants or risking empty training slots on their program start date."

In the meantime, Republicans and Democrats have not been able to agree, as negotiations over DACA go on in Washington, leaving an estimated 600,000 people in limbo. Democrats want to see legislation that preserves the program, but in return, Republicans want funding to build Trump's border wall.

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