Ending DACA may worsen doctor shortage

The move by the administration of President Donald Trump to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy in six months was harshly criticized by major medical associations, which warned removing DACA protections could affect access to care in rural and underserved areas.

The program, which defers any deportation action against undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and provides them with a work permit, currently covers about 800,000 people. In 2016, 108 students with DACA status applied to U.S. medical schools. According to the American Medical Association, it could help up to 5,400 previously ineligible physicians offer care in the U.S., which could help fill some gaps left by the growing physician shortage.

“Those with DACA status help contribute to a diverse and culturally responsive physician workforce, which benefits all patients,” wrote AMA CEO James Madara, MD. “These individuals have demonstrated their commitment to the United States in numerous ways by attending medical school, training to become doctors, caring for patients, conducting research, and improving our health care system. We therefore urge Congress to support these DACA recipients and pass a legislative solution in the near future.”

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) expressed similar concerns, adding that the delay in ending the program will still have a serious impact on medical students protected by DACA and “will interfere with their ability to complete their training and contribute meaningfully to the health of the nation.”

Several legislative solutions have already been proposed. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, are cosponsoring the Dream Act to grant legal status to the same population covered by DACA. However, there’s a long history of these same measures failing. Durbin first introduced the Dream Act in 2001, with the Senate failing to pass the bill in 2007 and 2010, the second time after the House had already approved it. Language from the Dream Act was included in the 2013 immigration reform bill which passed the Senate with 68 votes, but that time the House defeated the measure, never bringing it up for a vote.

Considering that history, the six-month delay in ending DACA “in no way mitigates the harm that will be done,” according to the American College of Physicians (ACP). The group—which has been a frequent critic of Trump administration policies—went further than the AMA or AAMC in asking Trump to reverse his decision and continue the DACA program.

“We know that noncitizens and undocumented immigrants are more likely to lack health insurance coverage. If the nearly 800,000 people who are currently benefiting from DACA have their protections removed, many will avoid seeking health care in order to reduce the risk of detection and deportation and those who seek to serve in the health care professions will be denied that opportunity,” wrote ACP President Jack Ende, MD