As a freshman at Texas Woman’s University, I’m working toward my dream of becoming a nurse. I hope to give compassionate care to Texans and also help address the state’s nursing shortage because of a growing demand for nurses and lack of supply. But now two bills in the Texas Legislature would significantly raise education costs for undocumented immigrants like myself. If implemented, the legislation could kill my nursing career before it even starts.
I’ve lived in Texas since I was 7, when my parents brought my brothers and me here to escape gang violence and poverty in our native Mexico. Since I was 10, I’ve dreamed of becoming a nurse. The Texas Dream Act, which then-Gov. Rick Perry signed in 2001, made it possible for me to pursue this goal, because it stipulates that undocumented high-school graduates in Texas who meet other residency requirements pay the same in-state tuition rates for state colleges and universities as our U.S.-born classmates.
But this year, two members of the Texas Legislature, Sen. Pat Fallon, R-Prosper, and Rep. Kyle Biedermann, R- Fredericksburg, have proposed bills intended to repeal the Dream Act, the most recent of many attempts in the Legislature. If these bills become law, the annual tuition cost for my studies would jump from about $6,450 to about $18,600. While I’m currently fortunate to receive a scholarship, I have no guarantee of support for my final two years — especially at that higher price tag. A change in the residency requirements could force me to drop out.
In an interview with KXAN in Austin about his bill, Biedermann said: “We’re educating them with K-12 right now. And they can be educated in college. Why should we give them a deduction or a subsidy at taxpayer expense when other Texans could use the funds also to get educated?”
This makes no sense. Young immigrants like me play a critical role in addressing the nation’s looming shortage of health care workers. Researchfinds that “registered nurse” is the second-most-popular career choice for Dreamers, undocumented young people who were brought to this country as children. And immigrants in general enter the health care profession at significantly higher rates than our U.S.-born peers. Our contributions are particularly needed in the Houston metropolitan area, where more than five health care jobs are currently advertised for every unemployed health care worker. As the population ages and the needs of Baby Boomers become more acute, the demand for qualified health care workers will only grow.
Changing residency requirements would also hurt the state’s economy, since people like me would see significantly lower salaries — an estimated 66 percent less annually — without a bachelor’s degree, says a new report by New American Economy, which finds that overturning the Texas Dream Act could result in nearly $400 million in lost economic activity in Texas each year.
My interest in nursing began when I saw firsthand the difference that caring hospital staff can make. I was 10 when I accompanied my aunt to the hospital during her first miscarriage. I went with her because I spoke English and because, as the youngest in the family, I was the only one who didn’t have to work. After that first procedure, my aunt was devastated, but the staff took excellent care of her. While she was in the recovery room, they talked with her about her feelings and even brought her teddy bears.
Unfortunately, my aunt had two more miscarriages and went to other hospitals where she received completely different treatment. She simply got the procedure and was sent home. No one took the time to talk to her afterward or even acknowledge the trauma she was going through.
I was a child, but I knew this wasn’t right. I decided that I would become a nurse, and I would treat every patient I met with the same care and compassion I’d give to a family member — regardless of where I worked. I want every patient I encounter to know that someone is looking out for them; I want them to know that they matter. I hope the Texas Legislature gives me a chance.
Jacqueline Gaona is a freshman at Texas Woman’s University.