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DREAM nurse speaks out to save DACA

‘My patients do not care where I’m from when I’m taking care of them.’


Washington State Nurses Association

WENATCHEE (Sept. 19, 2017) — Jessica Esparza says she’s here to stay. She wants to keep working as a registered nurse on the medical oncology unit at Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee. She wants to continue helping patients get through chemo, speaking with vulnerable patients in their native language and advocating for the needs of her community.

Jessica Esparza with her parents at her
2015 graduation from nursing school.

Without DACA, though, Jessica may not be able to continue doing the work she loves. Jessica is one of the nurses in Washington state who is undocumented and has a work permit only because of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

“If I don’t have a work permit, I can’t work as a nurse anymore,” Jessica said.

It’s that simple. And that’s why Jessica is speaking out about her DACA status and her commitment to continue caring for her patients.

The day President Trump said he was going to end DACA, Jessica wrote on Facebook that she would continue to be the best nurse she can, “Because my patients do not care what documentation I have as I hold their hand and cry with them after that terminal diagnosis. Because my patient’s family does not care what color my skin is as I give CPR to their loved one. Because my patients do not care about my accent as I educate them about their chronic condition. Because my patients do not care about where I am really from when I’m taking care of them.”

Trump gave Congress six months to come up with a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes addressing DACA, a program President Obama created through executive order to protect young people who were brought to the U.S. as children.

Asked if she is afraid of being deported, Jessica said, “I hope it doesn’t happen. It would be kind of insane to deport someone who’s contributing to their community and is not a criminal.”

Jessica came to the U.S. when she was 11 years old. Her mother decided the risk of crossing the border without documents was worth keeping the family together, so she followed Jessica’s father to Washington state, where he had been working seasonally as a farm laborer for many years.

Jessica attended Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake under Washington state’s Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which protects undocumented minors. She graduated in June 2015 and went to work at Central Washington Hospital with a work permit provided through the DACA program.

Losing her ability to work as a nurse would be a loss not only to Jessica, but to her patients as well. Research shows that patients tend to receive better quality care when health professionals mirror the ethnic, racial and linguistic backgrounds of their patients.

As one of only a few Spanish-speaking nurses at Central Washington Hospital, Jessica is often called on to talk with Spanish-speaking patients about such things as medications and discharge instructions.

“That way the patients go home knowing what they’re supposed to do,” Jessica said.

She was once asked by a doctor to speak with a patient about a cancer diagnosis. It was a sensitive conversation that the doctor didn’t want to have via a translator on Skype. Jessica was able to talk to the patient in person, in Spanish and with sensitivity.

The fate of DACA recipients is now in the hands of Congress. On Sept. 8, WSNA issued a statement that joins the American Nurses Association in calling on Congress to work together to find a compassionate, bipartisan solution that respects the humanity of every individual affected by the president’s recent decision to rescind the executive action for those with DACA status. The WSNA supports nurses like Jessica who are contributing so much to the health of patients in our state.

“The future is just uncertain,” Jessica said. “I’m hoping something better will come out of this.”

This story was originally posted at the WSNA website and it cross-posted here with the author’s permission.

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