School is working with state to provide student loan program
By BETSY TAYLOR
MAYWOOD, Ill. — Leaders at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine have received inquiries from interested students around the country since becoming the nation's first medical school to publicly welcome applications from undocumented immigrants in response to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was launched under an executive action by President Barack Obama last year.
"We're incredibly pleased by the response from potential applicants. The phone has been ringing off the hook for months now," said Mark Kuczewski, director of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine's Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics. Loyola Chicago made the decision last year to accept applications from people without legal immigration status. It did so after the executive action was announced; word has been spreading about the move since then. Under the deferred action program, undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and meet certain criteria (see sidebar) can apply to the government for two-year, renewable permissions to remain in the country without prosecution. They are then eligible to work in the U.S. Deferred action does not provide a person with lawful status, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Stritch medical school Dean Dr. Linda Brubaker and other school leaders saw the deferred action program as an opening to admit some of the "best and brightest" students to Stritch.
Young people who qualify for status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program receive a work permit and are able to apply for a Social Security number. "That solves the big problem we couldn't figure out initially, which is how they could have a residency spot, because they are employees of a health system at that point," Kuczewski explained. "Many states don't make the granting of a license actually dependent on immigration status. They really make it on training and the ability to work lawfully."
School officials are counseling applicants to fully research the state they may plan to practice in, to make sure there are no laws in place that would prohibit them from doing so.
Kuczewski said the medical school is projecting it may receive 100 to 200 applications for the upcoming academic year from students who can remain in the U.S. through the deferred action program, with an estimate that 10 to 12 of these students may be accepted into a class of roughly 150 medical students. Students are currently applying with an Oct. 15 deadline for entry into the class that begins in July 2014.
Since enrollment applications from undocumented immigrants have not been separated out from those of other applicants, Kuczewski said, school officials can't say how many undocumented immigrants have applied for spots. There is no quota for how many students from this group will be accepted, school officials said.
Loyola Chicago expects that these students will bring diverse resources to the medical school and to their future medical practice. "In addition to their outstanding traditional academic qualifications, they're often bilingual, bicultural; they have insight into the immigrant experience. They represent the kind of diversity that enriches our student class," Kuczewski said.
The majority of those who are eligible under the deferred action program are Hispanic; Brubaker said she expects the Stritch School of Medicine will receive applications from immigrants from other populations as well, including some Polish students. The Chicago area has a large population of Polish residents.
School officials said the response to their decision thus far has been largely positive, though not everyone has agreed with the school's decision. Brubaker said, "This is not a political initiative. It's an educational opportunity based on the principle of social justice." She said the school's job is to train students to be in service to others.
Specialty loan program
Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for any federally guaranteed student loans, Kuczewski said. To create a student loan program that these students could use to pay for medical school, Loyola Chicago is working with the Illinois Finance Authority, which provides access to low-cost capital to public and private institutions that are aligned with its mission of fostering economic development, creating and retaining jobs and improving Illinois residents' quality of life. Any medical or dental school in Illinois can utilize the new loan program. Immigrants must attend medical or dental school in Illinois to qualify for this specialized student loan program, but they can do their residencies and fellowships anywhere in the country. If they return to Illinois, and practice in an area designated by the Illinois Department of Public Health as underserved, the interest on their loan will be forgiven.
"It's really an investment in our physician infrastructure in our state," Kuczewski said. "You're getting some of the best and brightest to come back and practice in areas where it's hard to get a physician to practice."
Who qualifies for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals?
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services accepts and processes applications for consideration for deferred action for childhood arrivals. Approval does not provide lawful status or a pathway to permanent residence or citizenship. Those whose cases are deferred will be allowed to remain in the U.S. for a two-year period, with that permission being renewable every two years, and they also may receive employment authorization. To be considered for this deferred action status, a person must show that he or she:
Came to the U.S. before reaching a 16th birthday
Has continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007, up to the present time
Was under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012
Entered without presenting his- or herself to a U.S. immigration official at a U.S. port of entry before June 15, 2012, or had a lawful immigration status expired as of June 15, 2012
Is currently in school; has graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school; has obtained a general educational development certification; or is an honorably discharged veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard or armed forces
Has not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, and does not otherwise pose a threat
Was present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making a request for consideration of deferred action with Citizenship and Immigration Services
Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website