LatinaLista — This week, two very important members of President Obama’s Cabinet spoke out on the DREAM Act, the bill making its way through congressional committees to legalize the status of undocumented students and allow them to not only pursue affordable higher education but put their degrees to work once they have them.
Dr. Alfredo QuinoÃ±es-Hinojosa journeyed from being an undocumented migrant worker to one of the world’s most renown brain surgeon.
In an appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, Department of Homeland Security, Sec. Janet Napolitano, responded to a question by Sen. Dick Durbin who asked about how she felt about the DREAM Act (the bill was introduced by Sen. Durbin in the Senate):
I supported the Dream Act when I was governor. I support it now. One of the most moving things I’ve been privileged to do as secretary is to administer the oath of citizenship to men and women in our military who have been serving in Iraq, who were not citizens, who have elected to become citizen. In a way, it kind of mirrors what you’re talking about in the Dream Act.
But it seems to me that the Dream Act is a good piece of legislation and a good idea.
In a separate incident, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, also voiced his approval of the DREAM Act:
Duncan said it is important undocumented students have the opportunity to receive loans, and said he would do everything possible to encourage states to offer in-state tuition for these students.
“I think it’s absolutely in the state’s economic interest to make sure that these students have access and are treated just like their friends and peers from college,” he said.
If these students were allowed to pursue their educational goals, some of whom want to be doctors, then Kaiser Permanente in California wouldn’t have had to resort to what they announced this week — giving a $2 million grant to a UCLA program that recruits foreign-trained doctors to work in U.S. Latino communities.
Kaiser said the program is aimed at Latin American medical school graduates and will assist them with passing their U.S. licensing exams in return for working in family medicine residency programs in California.
The goal is to increase the number of doctors serving the large and currently underserved Spanish-speaking community in California.
According to UCLA, about 2,500 physicians who were trained in Latin America reside in California. They can’t practice because they are not licensed in the U.S.
From my perspective, the biggest flaw in granting this generous amount of money is that it seems there is an assumption that after these 2,500 are shepherded through the licensing process, recruiters will start looking outside the country for more doctors.
Though the number of undocumented students who want to be doctors would most probably not be able to fill the state’s physician shortage estimated to be 17,000 by 2015, those students whose education benefited from the Kaiser grant would guarantee several things that foreign-trained doctors would not bring to the table:
1. The students will have had the advantage of growing up in these local communities and know the people.
2. Because this is the only home they’ve ever known, there would be no getting homesick to return to their country of origin.
3. They would have already been trained in the practices, protocols and procedures of U.S. medicine.
4. By working in their local communities, these students would not just be giving back to the nation but also paying back Kaiser for their investment in them.
If Kaiser Permanente has this much money to spend on getting the qualifications up to par of foreign-trained doctors to meet U.S. standards, imagine the money they would be saving if they just invested in the education of undocumented students who already live here and want to attend medical school but don’t have the money.
If Kaiser Permanente was serious about filling the anticipated shortage of Spanish-speaking medical professionals in these California communities then why not use some of that money to either lobby on behalf of the DREAM Act and/or help create a bill that would allow undocumented U.S.-trained medical professionals to practice in underserved communities in California?
The money spent on bringing outside talent into the country when we have the talent here has never made any sense and even less now that we know that these same communities these students grew up in will be even more at-risk in the near future.