What is DACA, the Dream Act, and AB-540? What does it mean to be undocumented, particularly as a medical student?
Undocumented immigrants represent many nationalities and ethnicities, although Latino and Asian-American immigrants are the most common.
- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a federal policy allowing those who were born outside the United States, arrived as children, and graduated from a U.S. high school to avoid deportation, gain work authorization, and get a social security number for two years. It is not citizenship.
- The Dream Act is a CA state law allowing undocumented students to receive private scholarships and state funded financial aid (but most student loans are federal).
- AB-540 is a CA state law allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates.
Together, these policies provide the protections necessary to allow those who have grown up in California but were born outside the United States to work and attend public medical schools in-state at more affordable rates. A good policy summary can be found here.
What is happening at DGSOM?
DGSOM has recently started admitting undocumented students, but they are not eligible for federal loans due to their immigration status. Each student will thus have a $30,000-40,000 shortfall in their financial aid packages each year after accounting for family contributions, scholarships, and university loans. Current DGSOM students, Pre-Health Dreamers, and DGSOM administrators are developing short-term and long-term solutions to support undocumented medical students.
Why is this important?
We believe it is important to be a leader amongst medical schools and show support for our classmates who will bring valuable perspectives, experiences, and knowledge to our student body. With 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States and a larger proportion living in California, it is vital that we train physicians to provide excellent care for and with this marginalized group. We also have a unique chance to be one of the first medical schools to very publicly support undocumented students and push for policy changes that improve health.
What kinds of funding do “DACAmented” students typically use to support their education?
DACAmented medical students pay in-state tuition (provided they graduated from a CA high school) and are eligible for private scholarships. They are NOT eligible for federal loans (Perkins, Stafford, and Grad PLUS loans). They would be eligible for state funding due to The Dream Act, but there are no state funded loans for graduate education. Some private loans exist, but all require a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to co-sign and are not guaranteed to exist each year. Past students have funded their education through a combination of personal fundraising, family loans, co-signers, smaller merit-based scholarships, and donations.
What happens when undocumented medical students graduate from medical school?
Undocumented medical students are eligible to apply for residency programs through the normal process due to DACA, which provides a social security number and work permit. However, not all residency programs consider DACA applicants for various reasons. SB 1159 prohibits all licensing boards in California from taking immigration status into account. Thus, SB 1159 and DACA allow undocumented medical school graduates to obtain professional licenses and practice within California just like any other medical school graduate.
What are the next steps?
We have set a short-term goal of raising $50,000 for the 2015-2016 school year (based on the anticipated shortfall for current and admitted students for one year of medical school). We also welcome U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are willing to co-sign on private loans. Long-term goals are to set up more sustainable solutions by advocating for policy changes and looking for foundations, donors, or other organizations who could help set up an endowment or loan fund.
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