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A Very Special Ripped from the Headlines: DACA Edition (UPDATED)

NOTE: This article has been updated to include the views of Conexus Medstaff's own Veronica Sanchez. Veronica is the Immigration Manager for Conexus Medstaff and is keen to go to bat for the rights of DACA recipients keen to work in nursing.

This week, on a very special episode of Ripped From the Headlines, Conexus Medstaff delves into a highly charged political issue candidates, hospitals and HMOs won’t wanna miss: the Dreamers and a Nursing Career. 

As new legislation on the legality and rights of DACA recipients in the workplace escalates from state to federal level, we shed light on the opportunities for those hoping to work as a nurse in the country they’ve always known.

Stay tuned to this post. We’ll be sure to update it with new developments and insights.


In the international healthcare recruitment system, competent nursing is represented by two separate yet equally important groups. The quality nurses Conexus Medstaff places, and the American healthcare providers who turn to Conexus Medstaff for their services.

These are their stories. 

(Duh-DUH!).

ANA to Dreamers: We’ve got your back

Advocacy groups have a significant amount of influence on the people and practices of a given profession. For American nurses, that group (among others) is the American Nurses Association (ANA).

In June, nearly 360 nurses and members of ANA Membership Assembly addressed and laid out their stance on several critical issues in nursing at a two-day governance meeting in Washington, D.C. Issues addressed include vaccination exemptions, medical aid in dying, and human trafficking as a public health matter.

Also: DACA nursing students. From a NursingWorld.org press release:

ANA recommends that nursing students who are Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients – often called DREAMers – be allowed to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) in all states without facing barriers. This action would also help increase diversity in the workforce and ease nursing shortages.

As ANA reports, only eight states currently allow DACA students to sit for the exam. So the backing of a leading advocate, combined with national and state recognition of the contributions of a significant part of its population to a profession in dire need of new blood, is a sensible development we openly applaud.

Arkansas legislation aims for DACA NCLEX-RN takers

How will an American state government address shortages in nurse staffing? Some states place hurdles on eager DACA recipient nursing students hoping for a career in the field. For instance, a number of states exclude DACA recipients from taking the NCLEX-RN examination. 

Veronica Sanchez of Conexus Medstaff has voiced her displeasure at these restrictions on capable DACA nursing talent.

"I believe it is unjust to punish children for offenses they did not commit," Sanchez says. "DACA nurses are here to help, they are here to strengthen our communities and contribute to the growth of our country."

One state reconsidering these restrictions is Arkansas. From the Arkansas Times:

House Bill 1552, sponsored by Rep. Megan Godfrey (D-Springdale), now heads to the full House for a vote. The governor’s office and the state nursing board support the bill, Godfrey said. Autumn Tolbert spoke with the freshman representative about HB 1552 earlier this week.

“Our state is really desperate for nurses,” Godfrey said. “Seventy-three of the 75 counties here in Arkansas are listed as medically underserved because of the lack of health care workers.”

Politicians and DACA beneficiaries in Arkansas have expressed their bewilderment that such restrictions do apply. 

(Rosa) Ruvalcaba Serna said she attended community college while working full time, then applied to nursing school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. In October 2017, she said, she received the news that she could not sit for the NCLEX, the exam required for RN licensure. 

“UAMS offered a full refund if I wanted to withdraw, as this licensure issue was also news to them,” she said. Instead, she began advocating for a change in policy.

Rep. John Payton (R-Wilburn), a conservative Republican and a co-sponsor of the bill, thanked Ruvacalba Serna. Payton said he was surprised to discover DACA recipients couldn’t receive a nursing license. “I had no idea we had a roadblock for somebody that, of no volition of their own, came here,” he said...

The bill passed unanimously.

No one testified against the bill. Three people testified in support, including another would-be nurse, Zulually Guerrero of De Queen. Guerrero, 21, said she was born with a physical disability that required multiple surgeries and hospital stays when she was a child. That led her to develop a love or nursing, Guerrero said.

“Ever since I graduated high school, I had a dream of one day working in Arkansas Children’s Hospital, where I spent most of my time,” Guerrero said.

Without getting too worked up about it, such a sentimental story is a testament to the true nature of where capable nurses come from at the end, and what inspired that enthusiasm. It is also a testament to America's growing need for capable nurses to fill a large talent gap.

"America is undergoing a massive nursing shortage," Sanchez says. "Not only are experienced nurses retiring at a rapid clip, but there are not enough nursing graduates to replenish the workforce. 

"DACA nurses are willing to work and live in underserved areas."

Perhaps Payton himself said it best:

“I look forward to you being a nurse in Arkansas,” Payton said.

Current practices for DACA nurse students and practitioners: A Reddit Thread

In the face of the recent threat of ICE raids in many major American cities, discretion in discussion amongst DACA recipients is the safest policy. 

Enter the Reddit DACA thread, where experiences and advice abound, anonymity is strong, and even nurses share a window into their state by state experiences. 

"Thanks to DACA, nurses have been able to legally attend school and find employment in the U.S.," Sanchez says. "In fact, they have had to work extra hard, as it is difficult and sometimes impossible to get federal loans or financial aid. So they have had to work 2-3 jobs at a time to pay for their schooling."

From Reddit DACA, the thread breaks down personal stories from nurses and students in terms of:

  • financial aid
  • hiring practices
  • school enrollment. 

One particularly telling sub-Redditer mentioned a Vocational Nurse who basically explained her way into a nursing college despite the school clearly being “clueless” about DACA.

States cited in the sub-Reddit thread include:

  • Texas
  • Georgia
  • North Carolina
  • Washington State
  • Oklahoma
  • Ohio

Sanchez advises DACA recipients to remain persistent and not lose hope in their goal to follow a career path they want to follow.

"No matter what happens in the future, DACA nurses will not give up on trying to become nurses and they will go out of the state of residency if needed to take the NCLEX," she says. "They might feel defeated but remembering how hard they have worked and how much their parents have sacrificed for them keep them going."

It’s a highly recommended portal to share your experience and discover what nursing hopefuls receiving DACA might encounter. Even if governments and advocacy groups are slow to help.

What healthcare providers can do for DACA nurses

When staffing quality talent is an issue, a government wants to hear the voices of its constituents. As Conexus Medstaff work regularly with understaffed healthcare providers nationwide, we recommend providers in need of quality become advocates of the ANA’s position or legislation such as House Bill 1552 in Arkansas.

What nurses should know about DACA

We’re looking to work with DACA recipients with the eagerness, intelligence, and temperament to deliver quality patient care in America’s hospitals, nursing homes, private practice offices, and healthcare organizations.

As Sanchez puts it, it's imperative that the rights and freedoms of DACA recipients be enhanced for the betterment of America - from naturalized citizen to immigrant to Dreamer.

"DACA recipients must be eligible to receive federal aid from the government in order to be able to afford school. Otherwise, it will take longer for them to graduate as they need to work and study at the same time. In this way, the shortage of nurses is expected to intensify and the need for health care grows."

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