Seven undocumented medical students started classes at Loyola University Chicago on Aug. 4, but the school still is the only one in the state—and possibly the country—to intentionally enroll such students.
From Northwestern University to Southern Illinois University, no other medical or dental school publicly has embraced students who came to the United States illegally as children but have spent most of their lives here.
“I am a little surprised that we're not hearing more interest within the state,” says Mark Kuczewski, chairman of Loyola's department of medical education in west suburban Maywood. Once the state established a loan program to help students pay tuition, “It's hard to see what the downside would be.”
“We are in the business of taking the best and the brightest that we can find to make the best physicians we can to serve our communities,” he says. “We did not want to turn away any people who fit that bill.”
But other schools are reluctant. Although the so-called Dreamers can work and pay for school through federal and state initiatives for now, there's no guarantee their legal status will last, potentially leaving them with big bills they can't afford or facing deportation. Hospital residency training programs, a requirement for licensed physicians, are funded in part with taxpayer money, a possible lightning rod for critics.
“We only have limited spots, and if it looks as if the person is in a temporary status for whatever reason, it's probably better for everyone involved to err on the side of those individuals who do have a status who are trying to get into our program,” says Darryl Pendleton, an associate dean at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry, which doesn't plan to admit undocumented students. Neither does the public university's medical school.
Loyola's Stritch School of Medicine announced in 2013 that it planned to admit undocumented students granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The status, which the Obama administration created in 2012, defers deportation proceedings against undocumented residents who were no older than 30 and came to the U.S. when they were younger than 16, among other guidelines. The status must be renewed every two years.
Manuel Bernal, a 23-year-old student at Loyola University's Stritch School of Medicine, came to the states from Mexico. Photo: Manuel Martinez
It's not a path to citizenship, but DACA status allows undocumented residents to get a work permit. For medical students, that's crucial to landing a residency, which is a paying job.
Another major hurdle was how these students would cover $200,000 for four years of tuition and fees when they aren't eligible for federal aid. The Illinois Finance Authority, an independent state agency, stepped in, issuing $390,000 in interest-free loans to cover the first year of school for the seven students at Loyola. In exchange, they must work in underserved areas in the state after they finish their training.
Manuel Bernal, who came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 2 years old and grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, says he wouldn't have been able to afford medical school without an IFA loan. He's one of the seven Dreamers among 160 first-year students at Loyola who began classes Aug. 4.
“It's definitely something I think about every once in a while,” Mr. Bernal, 23, says about potentially being unable to practice medicine or being deported if his status changes. “I'm most worried about my courses this semester.”
North Chicago-based Rosalind Franklin University offered admission to Mr. Bernal, he says. The school doesn't have any current undocumented students and declines to comment about specific applicants. “We appreciate Loyola's commitment to their mission and are very interested in watching how this new program works for them,” Rosalind Franklin Vice President Patrick Knott says.
The University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine in Hyde Park doesn't have students with DACA status, but they can apply as international students, a spokesman says. Experts say international students must be issued a student visa to study—an obstacle for undocumented students because they are living illegally in the U.S.
A spokeswoman for Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine says the school has no plans to admit undocumented students."A year later, Loyola still alone in ernolling undocumented students" originally appeared in Crain's Chicago Business.