When Brenda Acosta Oseguera graduated from her Baltimore high school in 2011, she was trying to choose between two undesirable options. As an undocumented immigrant, she could not receive government financial aid for college. And at the time, undocumented immigrants were also ineligible for in-state tuition at Maryland’s public institutions. That meant she could either continue working low-wage jobs — in fast food and retail — or attend college in Mexico, where she had lived until she was 10. “I really didn’t want to go back because my whole life was here,” she says.
Worse, Acosta knew that if she went to Mexico, U.S. immigration law would prohibit her from re-entering the United States for at least 10 years. Her older sister, who chose a college in Mexico, discovered this when she attempted to return home for a visit. Neither Acosta nor her parents have seen her in years.
Fortunately for Acosta, in 2012 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security instituted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy that allows qualifying undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to defer deportation for renewable two-year periods and to work legally in the United States. “I cried the day it was announced,” says Acosta. “I was so happy. I was excited to be able to get my driver’s license and get a better job.”
Acosta immediately knew she wanted to work at Johns Hopkins University, which helps employees pay for higher education. She was hired as a patient registrar at its Bayview Medical Center, and has since received several promotions. She now coordinates The Access Partnership, or TAP, a program that helps low-income families receive medical care. “I like being able to help the community,” she says. “A lot of the people I help don’t speak English and need someone to assist them with appointments, translate for them, or advocate for them within the hospital.”
DACA opened a lot of doors for me, but if I was able to get something permanent, I’d be able to plan a future for me and my daughter.
By working in the healthcare field, Acosta is playing a critical role in the U.S. economy. In all 50 states, there are already far more healthcare jobs open than there are qualified workers to fill them. Nationwide, there were 4.4 healthcare jobs advertised in 2013 for every one unemployed healthcare worker, and the gap is only expected to grow as America’s 76.4 million baby boomers age. As a result, the country’s healthcare system is expected to face unprecedented demand, adding jobs faster than any other industry.
Like other DACA recipients, Acosta came to this country through no choice of her own. When the family left Mexico in 2007, Acosta’s parents said they were going on vacation. She and her sister had no idea their parents intended to stay until after they arrived in Baltimore.
Now Acosta dreams of getting a college degree, furthering her career, and buying a house for herself and her young daughter. Currently she has primary custody of her daughter, who visits her father every other weekend. After President Donald Trump announced in September 2017 that the administration would phase out DACA by March 2018 unless Congress takes action, Acosta became worried. “If I wasn’t able to stay here, I don’t know what the situation would be with my daughter,” she says. “Her dad is U.S. citizen, and we are not together. I try not to think about it too much.”
Acosta hopes Congress will develop a permanent solution so that families like hers aren’t torn apart. “Having a path to residency or citizenship would be best,” she says. “DACA opened a lot of doors for me, but if I was able to get something permanent, I’d be able to plan a future for me and my daughter.”