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Opinion I am a DACA beneficiary. I can’t work as an ER doctor anymore.

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Juan Vasquez is a resident physician in the Department of Emergency Medicine at NYU Langone Health and NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

I’m an emergency medicine physician in New York. I’m also a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. I now find myself in the strange position of not being able to work as an emergency room doctor because the pandemic has hobbled the federal agency responsible for renewing DACA eligibility applications. In other words, I can’t treat coronavirus patients, or others, because covid-19 has left DACA in disarray.

I was a sophomore studying biology at the University of California at Berkeley when I first heard about the DACA program. As an undocumented student, I struggled paying tuition out-of-pocket, since I was ineligible for federal loans or grants. I also couldn’t work legally — so I spent most of my weekends filling out applications for private scholarships, which often did not require a Social Security number.

DACA’s introduction in 2012 helped alleviate many of my concerns. It provided protections for the nearly 800,000 people like me, children brought to the United States by immigrants who entered the country illegally — my family had come to the United States from El Salvador when I was 9. I filed as soon as I saved up enough to cover the $495 application fee.

The application process is cumbersome, but a few months after filing the paperwork, I received an approval notice and employment authorization. Once granted, DACA status and employment authorization must be renewed every two years by the Department of Homeland Security. Now I was free to pursue my dream of becoming a physician. In 2017, I was accepted into medical school at the University of California at San Francisco.

Those of us in the DACA program saw our futures thrown into doubt when the Trump administration vowed to rescind the program. Without DACA, I wouldn’t be able to work as a physician, or in any other profession. I was beyond relieved when the Supreme Court intervened, keeping the program in place.

One of the striking things about working on clinical rotations in San Francisco during the pandemic was seeing how the fear of contracting covid had dissuaded many sick people from venturing out of the house and seeking medical care in a timely way — and then ended up in the ER. I was grateful to be able to help during those chaotic first months of the pandemic.

Yet no matter how busy or distracted people with DACA status might be, the need to maintain eligibility for the program is never far from our thoughts — everything we’ve worked for hinges on it. DHS processing of DACA renewal applications in the past took, on average, 1.3 months, but I liked to file three months in advance, just to be sure.

I filed for the two-year renewal and work authorization in April, well ahead of their July expiration. In June, I relocated to New York City, where I had been accepted into an emergency medicine post-graduate residency program. I worked for a month — with mounting alarm, as the expiration of my DACA status and work permit approached.

And then they did expire. Per DACA requirements, I have been placed on an unpaid leave of absence, unable to care for patients. It turns out that because the pandemic caused long shutdowns of many government offices, DHS has fallen far behind in processing DACA renewal applications: It can take up to 5.5 months for the agency to approve eligibility that lasts just two years.

I am disillusioned and uncertain as to how all this will play out. I never imagined the pandemic would threaten not only the lives of my patients, but also my very ability to care for them.

Complicating matters further for the DACA program: A recent ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas declared DACA illegal on the grounds that it violates the Administrative Procedure Act, a bureaucratic law governing the process by which federal agencies develop and issue regulations.

Because of the ruling, DHS is no longer approving new DACA or employment authorization requests, although it continues to process renewal requests — at a snail’s pace, upending countless lives.

Versions of my DACA story are no doubt playing out all over the country. Clearly, this fragile program needs to be put on firmer footing. The American Dream and Promise Act, which was passed by the House in March and which has a version under consideration in the Senate, would do that, by incorporating the program into federal law.

On Tuesday, 19 Senate Republicans joined Democrats to pass an infrastructure bill. Similar bipartisanship on DACA would ensure that its beneficiaries are able to contribute to society and the national economy.

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