Gladys Diaz Almendarez is studying to be a doctor. After working for three years at a child daycare, she fell in love with babies and decided to become an obstetrician-gynecologist. The 22-year-old has traveled a difficult path. First came her journey though the desert from Mexico to Arizona when she was 10 years old, when she and her mother walked for miles each night, sleeping on the ground during the day. After finally crossing the border, they made their way to South Dakota, where an uncle owned a restaurant and other relatives lived.
Next came the challenge of learning English and facing a future as an undocumented immigrant. Fortunately, in 2012, during her senior year of high school, the Obama administration signed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which temporarily defers deportation and provides work authorization for qualifying undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. Almendarez is one of more than 250 DACA recipients in South Dakota. “Getting DACA was a huge relief,” she says. “I gave myself permission to dream about a future.” Although Almendarez has had to leave school after each semester to earn tuition money, she has worked toward an undergraduate degree in pre-med studies from the University of South Dakota. She also became a certified nursing assistant and works at Sanford USD Medical Center, in Sioux Falls.
I want to show the people who support DACA that they did the right thing by believing in me.
But since the Trump administration announced in 2017 that it would end DACA unless Congress took action — something Congress has so far failed to do — Almendarez has been unsure what to do with her future. “My DACA expires in October 2018, so I’m worried about what will happen after that. I’m so scared that I’ll have to quit my job, and I don’t know how I’ll pay for school,” she says.
DACA is a good for the South Dakota economy; it is estimated that its loss would cost the state $12.2 million annually in gross domestic product. The same is true for the nation, which would lose an estimated $460.3 billion in GDP over the next 10 years if the 685,000 DACA workers were removed from the economy.
Losing Dreamers like Almendarez would bring an added cost, however, given her desire to become a doctor. The American Medical Association estimates that the United States could see a shortage of 94,700 physicians by 2025. Meanwhile, foreign-born physicians are already proving critical in helping to alleviate healthcare shortages across the United States, and the AMA estimates that DACA could introduce 5,400 previously ineligible physicians into the U.S. health system in coming decades. The shortage of healthcare workers is particularly acute in rural states. In South Dakota, for example, the ratio of open healthcare jobs to unemployed healthcare workers is 68:1. “I’m fascinated by how the human body works and really want to care for patients,” Almendarez says. “I also want to prove that I can be someone. I want to show the people who support DACA that they did the right thing by believing in me.”