Georgetown University Medical Center students launched a group last fall to raise awareness among medical students and administrators about the experiences of students without documentation.
The group, known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Undocumented Student Awareness Club, plans to educate medical students about the DACA program and their fellow students without documentation. The organization has accumulated 31 members since its creation.
DACA, a program launched by an Obama Administration executive order in 2012, permits some individuals without documentation who entered the country before their 16th birthday to be protected from deportation through a deferral in the deportation process.
Elaine Li (MED ’19), a student without documentation, was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States as a child. Li said undocumented students were often denied entrance into medical schools as well as financial aid before the implementation of DACA.
“When I got the acceptance for Georgetown I was very happy, but at the same time it was quickly replaced by ‘Oh, how am I supposed to afford this?’ I don’t have money, I don’t have federal aid,” Li said.
However, Li said GUMC tried to help with this issue by providing her with institutional loans for which all GUMC students are eligible.
Undocumented Student Adviser Arelis Palacios, whom the university announced Nov. 2016 would replace part-time liaison Cinthya Salazar, said Georgetown is dedicated to providing resources to all students, regardless of legal status.
“This university has been committed to undocumented students for a little bit over a decade, and has been really supportive of students who are wanting to get this education,” Palacios said.
However, Palacios added that despite the university’s resources for students without documentation, their citizenship statuses still add day-to-day pressures.
“The challenges for this population are truly greater than your average student,” Palacios said. “The reality is that most students aren’t worried about being deported, most students aren’t worried about their families being deported, perhaps their families being detained indefinitely.”
Still, Aya De La Rosa (GRD ’20), an executive board member of the student group, said Georgetown can do more to support students without documentation, especially by informing prospective students what resources the university provides.
“They didn’t know you could actually go to graduate school, that you could go to medical school [or that] you could even get financial aid because, for example, at Georgetown it’s not publicized,” De La Rosa said. “They don’t make it public that that’s a thing that happens, but other schools do.”
According to Danny Flautero (GRD ’20), another executive board member of the organization, students themselves currently have to reach out to administrators to receive information about receiving financial aid or other information from the GUMC.
“Right now, students have to email the offices directly and say ‘Can I apply? What kinds of resources are there for me?’” Flautero said.
Flautero said the club also aims to share personal stories of struggles faced by students without documentation, especially in light of President Donald Trump’s promises to expand deportations of immigrants without documentation.
Li said the status of DACA and of older family members are a significant concern to club members.
“We have DACA, but our families don’t have [it.] A lot of us right now worry about our parents or adults who couldn’t qualify for DACA,” Li said.
De La Rosa said if Trump were to revoke the DACA program, many medical school graduates would be deported, despite their degrees or residency positions.
“One of the fears that I think I would have, especially now with the current government, is that you’re doing the whole medical school for nothing,” De La Rosa said. “You have DACA status right now — let’s say you finish medical school — but if you don’t have DACA status it might be like you just did medical school for nothing. What do you do after that?”
Flautero said the group has struggled to gain traction during its first few meetings, but is increasing outreach efforts.
“We’ve been a little bit frustrated with some of the turnout at our events. We try to publicize them pretty openly and early on,” Flautero said. “We put a lot of effort in. We’ve had events where like one person has shown up before, and for other events it’s the same people that keep coming, but we feel like we’re not reaching out.”