A Forest Park medical professor is on the front lines of the national controversy surrounding President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA. 

The program, implemented in 2012 by former President Barack Obama has allowed close to 1 million undocumented immigrants to work and attend school in the United States for a certain period of time without facing deportation.  

Roughly 100 DACA recipients are currently enrolled in medical schools around the country and roughly a third of them, 32 to be exact, attend the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood. 

In 2014, Stritch became the first medical school in the nation to explicitly open its doors to DACA recipients, largely owing to the work of Dr. Mark Kuczewski — a professor of medical ethics at Stritch, who also serves as director of its Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics and chair of the Department of Medical Education.

Kuczewski said his work with DACA students actually dates to 2011, when a professor at another university emailed him about an undocumented Loyola undergraduate student who was interested in going to medical school.

“Because of my interests in immigration, the professor came to me and I worked with the administration to create this pathway,” Kuczewski said during an interview in September, not long after the medical school announced he would receive the 2017 Loyola University Chicago Faculty of the Year Award.

“These students have all completed a level playing field for admission,” he said. “They’re really the cream of the crop.” 

DACA, Kuczewski explained, had not been created back then. 

“We were stuck and had not figured out how to make this work,” he said. “I remember the day when DACA was created and we heard the word ‘work permits.’ We became the first medical school to announce that we’d take applications from DACA recipients.” 

Kuczewski and his colleagues at Stritch also worked with partner organizations to create specialized loan packages for the students that has turned the medical school into a destination place for DACA med students across the country. 

The Forest Park resident said about half of the 32 students come from Latin America, while the other half come from places like South Korea, Pakistan, India and other parts of Asia.

“DACA is extremely critical because it provides them relief from deportation and enables them to have a work permit,” Kuczewski said. “That’s key for them going on to practice medicine. They have to be able to work lawfully and receive payment. With DACA being rescinded, unless Congress does something like pass the DREAM Act, these students won’t go on to treat patients.” 

Trump’s decision to end DACA makes lending to already high-risk borrowers a nonstarter, since the probability of them paying the money back without a guarantee that they’ll be able to work is extremely low. The average medical school student graduates with around $176,000 in federal student loan debt, Kuczewski said. 

“These young people have grown up here in our community,” he said. “This is the only country most of them have ever known. They want to contribute to this society. They don’t want to take things from people. Why tie their hands behind their backs?” 

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com