Photo courtesy of Georgetown University

Editor’s note: Pseudonyms were used in this article to protect students’ privacy.

Lucy is a first-generation medical student in Georgetown University’s School of Medicine who immigrated to the United States when she was two. When she interacts with patients on medical rotations, she often thinks of her parents: “My parents always say, ‘Listen and treat every patient you see with your whole heart. You need to view them like they’re us.’”

Lucy does — her parents are the reason she’s in medicine and a Health Justice Scholar, a track in the School of Medicine that educates and prepares physicians to be health justice advocates for their patients. Lucy, who is using a pseudonym to avoid identification, grew up watching her parents avoid medical care for painful infections and illnesses because they were uninsured. They had come to the U.S. on work visas and sought to become permanent residents for years. Despite years of trying, when Lucy was 16, she learned she wasn’t a U.S. citizen, either.

“My parents were using home remedies — which some of the poorest people in our home country had used for medical treatment — despite living in the most medically advanced country,” said Lucy. “That’s what really inspired me to go into medicine. I want to advocate for the uninsured and underserved and see how, as a Dreamer, I can make things easier not only for patients but also for students who want to go into medicine.”

Lucy is a Dreamer, an early recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a policy that has protected young adults from deportation and authorized them to work in the U.S. On the program’s 10th anniversary, as she looks forward to completing her medical degree, Lucy is also looking outward, at fellow DACA recipients interested in medicine, to see how they can receive the support she has at Georgetown and expand it for future students.

She joins Georgetown faculty, staff and students, who, guided by the University’s Jesuit values, have created a robust network of support and resources for DACA recipients and undocumented students, and who, in midst of the program’s uncertain future, are also looking ahead.

Advocacy on the Legal Stage
Georgetown was an early advocate for the Dream Act legislation and a supporter of the DACA program since it was enacted in 2012. University leaders have pressed Congress to pass permanent protections for DACA recipients and joined other colleges and universities in filing amicus briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the program and protecting undocumented students on college campuses, particularly as the program’s future has been threatened.

Most recently, after submitting a formal comment to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on DACA, President John J. DeGioia issued a formal statement in August 2022, applauding the Biden Administration’s steps to codify and continue the program — and reinforcing the need for permanent legislative solutions to fully protect young DACA recipients.

“We welcome all efforts to protect the DACA program, including the Administration’s action, and we will continue to advocate for permanent protections and for expanding the DACA eligibility criteria for these young people and adults who have contributed so much to our campus and to our nation,” said DeGioia. “They deserve the ability to contribute their talents without fear.”

DeGioia himself has been a leading advocate for undocumented students: he is a founding member of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration; he has testified in support of the Dream Act before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security; sent letters to Congressional leaders; and hosts an annual luncheon to meet with undocumented students and DACA recipients.

“Georgetown is and has been a leader, being a powerful advocate to affirm the protections of DACA while providing platforms to uplift the voices of our students, not only for their future contributions to our workforce, but also as human beings in our beloved community,” said Dr. Jennifer Crewalk, associate director for Undocumented Student Services at Georgetown (USS).

Advocacy On Campus
In addition to Georgetown’s legal advocacy, the University has provided resources and support to DACA recipients on campus. The University offers need-based scholarships and maintains a need-blind admissions policy that applies to all applicants, including undocumented students. Through USS, Dr. Crewalk, a full-time director, provides a confidential space for students to share their experiences and access resources, including career guidance and free legal services through a partnership with Catholic Charities DC. USS also seeks to care for students’ physical, spiritual and mental well-being, particularly as the DACA program faces continual legal challenges and upheaval.

“While the benefits of DACA include a work permit, driver’s license, and some protection from deportation, it is still an emotional roller coaster for our students as they watch it unravel, knowing they may soon face what their younger peers, who are ineligible for DACA, have endured,” said Dr. Crewalk. “Our students are strong, motivated and resourceful, but they too can get weary. We offer many resources, but can also accompany students in times of doubt and pain.”

To ensure Georgetown is meeting students where they are, the Undocumented Student Task Force, made up of allies and leaders from across campus, also works to identify institutional access barriers to resources and support the creation of new resources aligned with what students say is important to them, according to Dr. Crewalk.

The Future of DACA
Dr. Lee Jones, dean for medical education at Georgetown’s School of Medicine, has worked to support and advocate for DACA students and medical education throughout his career at medical schools and through his work with the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), where he serves as chair-elect of its board of directors.

“Diversity, of all sorts, enhances our Georgetown community, education and training and, ultimately, the care our graduates give to our communities,” said Dr. Jones. “DACA students bring invaluable gifts, talents, experiences, expertise and relationships to medicine, and we need to meet these students where they are and help them reach their full potential, because we need them.”

As Lucy nears the end of medical school, she’s eager to lift up other DACA students, too — aware that too few DACA students are able to train at medical schools. She’s made a step-by-step guide for Dreamers interested in medicine at her state college and mentors them. At Georgetown, where she has received scholarship support and financial aid, she has worked with the School of Medicine’s Council of Diversity Affairs to propose ideas for supporting students applying to medical school.

“As I near the end of medical school, I want to leave something behind,” she said. “There’s no point in having this knowledge and being in this position if I’m not going to help lift others up. I want to build a more robust path for Dreamers.”

At Georgetown, this advocacy continues. “Through their activism, academic redemption and community building, many of our undocumented students have the talent to ‘go forth and set the world on fire,’ yet are held back by outdated federal policies — left with a premier education but an unknown future. So our advocacy continues,” said Dr. Crewalk. “Universities like Georgetown and similar mission-driven universities have tremendous impact in protecting and developing our students. We all need to be involved in this conversation.”

Contributed by the Georgetown University Office of Strategic Communications