The Indiana General Assembly has an opportunity to do something constructive, and practical, on an issue that has languished in Washington D.C.: pass legislation that recognizes the presence, humanity and contributions of those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status.
DACA was implemented in August 2012 as Congress was repeatedly unable to pass meaningful immigration reform legislation, such as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. The DREAM Act would have provided a decade-long path to legal status for individuals who came to the U.S. as children and met numerous other requirements.
For certain undocumented immigrants who came to the country before the age of 16, DACA provided temporary protection from deportation and the ability to work, renewable every two years. Since 2012 almost 800,000 people across the country have been granted protection from deportation and work authorization under DACA; almost 10,000 in Indiana and 43,000 in Illinois. One of the most positive, and potentially long-lasting, aspects of DACA is the impact it has had on youth and young adults enrolling in and graduating from post-secondary education and launching their careers.
A key component for individuals to work in numerous professions is the requirement to be licensed by their respective states. Lawyers, barbers, teachers, social workers, and nurses are required to take and pass specific licensure exams in their home states in order to legally work in their professions. Each state in the country has different rules and regulations about who can take such exams.
In Indiana, the rules on who can take licensure exams for over 70 professions, including nursing, were changed in late 2017 and implemented earlier this year. The Indiana Professional Licensing Agency (IPLA) added new questions about citizenship status to all of its license applications. The forms now ask applicants to confirm they are U.S. citizens or “qualified aliens.” According to IPLA, DACA holders are not considered “qualified aliens” under federal law despite DACA holders being allowed to take licensure exams and obtain professional licenses in states such as Illinois, Nebraska, New York, and Wyoming.
The Indiana General Assembly is currently debating Senate Bill 419, which would change the citizenship requirements for obtaining professional licenses granted by the IPLA. The IPLA estimates at least 37 DACA-recipient Hoosiers have been unable to obtain a professional license because of the new practice. That number does not take into account those who are currently in school and had hoped to take their licensure exams later this year or in the relative short term.
One of the currently enrolled students eagerly awaiting the decision on Senate Bill 419 is Yesenia Giron. Yesenia has lived in Indiana for the past 22 years since she and her family arrived from Mexico. Yesenia has DACA and is currently studying to be a registered nurse at Ivy Tech Community College, where she is on track to graduate in May. She expected she then would take the licensure exam for nursing, known as the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX). When she started researching the NCLEX earlier this year, however, she was told she could not take the exam because of the recent changes. “It was like a brick wall hit me,” said Yesenia.
She has been a full-time student, holding a 3.5 GPA while also working full-time at an organization that serves people with disabilities. Her intent was to remain in Indiana after obtaining her associates degree, work in the healthcare field and continue her studies for a bachelor of science in nursing and eventually a master’s degree. She wants to apply her education to work in an intensive care unit or emergency room somewhere in Indiana.
“I consider Indiana home,” said Yesenia. “All I want to do is contribute to my community, contribute to society.”
Yesenia is hopeful the Indiana General Assembly will see the value in her story and that of so many other Hoosiers who have studied, worked and contributed to their communities in so many ways and want to continue doing so.
Despite the national tone on this issue and the challenge before the Indiana General Assembly adjourns later this week, Yesenia has faith that “if this is another bump in the road, this is something I will overcome.”
Julián Lazalde is the civic engagement and policy analyst at NIJC.