Many immigrants who work on the frontlines of healthcare may live in fear of deportation now that a proposed rule to end DACA is pending. In 2012, the Obama administration created DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, for those who came to this country with their parents as children. DACA recipients are often called Dreamers and must be born after 1981 and have arrived in the US before June 2012.

It is estimated that 27,000 healthcare workers and support staff depend on DACA for their authorization to work in the United States. They’re working as frontline doctors, registered nurses, physical therapists, medical assistants, nursing aides at long-term care facilities, and home health aides, often in jobs that are hard to fill. This number also includes medical students, medical residents and physicians who depend on DACA for their eligibility to practice medicine.

“Those who don’t have DACA or legal status are subject to deportation,” says Jon Jessen, an immigration lawyer in Stamford, CT. “Certain felony and misdemeanor convictions are also grounds for deportation.” The State Department reported that as of September, nearly 500,000 people remained in its immigrant visa backlog, compared with 61,000 on average in 2019. “Those who previously filed with DACA continue to be protected and have work authorization,” says Jessen. “They can re-register their DACA status every 2 years.” If DACA recipients lose their protected status, then the US healthcare system could suffer.

Current data from the AMA Physician Masterfile shows that 67% of doctors are US born, 19% foreign born, and 14% have an unknown birth location. “Our country relies on the skills and experiences of the hundreds of active physicians, plus medical students and residents, who depend on DACA for their eligibility to study, practice medicine, and fill crucial gaps in patient care,” said Susan R. Bailey, MD, President of the AMA. “During their careers, these highly skilled clinicians will care for and improve the lives of millions of Americans while helping to fulfill our goal of a diverse healthcare workforce that reflects the demographics of the patients we serve.”

While most immigrants (77%) are in this country legally, it is estimated that there are about 10.5 million undocumented residents. “Employers who violate certain immigration laws by employing undocumented immigrants can face fines and penalties,” Jessen explained. “But, sometimes it’s hard for employers to find Americans to do these jobs.” Many have skills that can benefit the healthcare system and are often bilingual, which is useful when communicating with patients who speak little to no English.