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Retired Physician: Small Towns Need More Doctors, So Why Hinder Undocumented Med Students?

James Merrill has led a life of service. As a doctor in the small town of Enumclaw, Washington, he delivered some 3,000 babies. Many of the families he treated were Mexican immigrants and they made him part of their community. “I was invited to a lot of fiestas,” he says.

Merrill is also very active in his Catholic church, and he regularly counsels immigrant teenagers preparing for their confirmation. As he advised these young people, he discovered that some were undocumented. They had been brought to the United States as children and their parents had not been able to obtain legal residency for the family.

What a loss it would be if these young people were forced to leave. They could be of great service to our country.

One of these children was Mari Pachuca, who had come to the United States when she was six years old. “Mari is so Americanized, it is ridiculous,” Merrill says. “She has no accent. She’s like anyone else who has lived here forever.” Mari aspired to be a doctor, a goal Merrill believed was imminently attainable, given her high grades and studious nature. But her lack of status meant that financing college and medical school would be exceedingly difficult. “I thought that was pretty unfair,” he says. “It shocked me and saddened me.” (Mari is now on Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which shields her from deportation and allows her to seek legal employment. She has, however, shelved her plans to become an M.D. Her immigration status doesn’t allow her to secure an educational loan, which means she is forced to work her way through school.)

Working with people like Mari Pachuca has made Merrill a strong supporter of immigration reform. “We have a large amount of land,” he says. “It’s not like we are going to be overpopulated. There’s lots of room for good people.” He sees Mari and other Dreamers as particularly deserving of citizenship. “What a loss it would be if these young people were forced to leave,” he says. “They could be of great service to our country.”

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…