You’ve known you wanted to be a nurse for your entire life and you’ve spent the last six years working 2-3 jobs in order to pay for nursing school.
You’ve spent countless hours studying, hoping, and praying for the moment you would be able to give back to the family who sacrificed so much to get you to this point when you are told something shocking:
You won’t be allowed to take your NCLEX exam.
Rosa, 24, a nursing school student at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Nursing, set to graduate in December of 2019, is facing that exact situation. Despite the obstacles ahead of her, however, she is determined to find a way to complete her nursing degree.
The Challenge for DACA College Students
Rosa is one of the United States’ estimated 800,000 children of undocumented immigrants and DACA recipients brought into the country as a child. Rosa barely remembers the process of her parents bringing her into the U.S. when she was only six years old — “it was like a dream,” she recounts, an apt description since she’s one of 3.6 million children of undocumented immigrants often called “DREAMers,” after a failed legislation of the same name.
For individuals like Rosa, who entered the U.S. as children and who have grown up in the country, but have undocumented parents, the path to citizenship is difficult. Children of undocumented immigrants typically have four options to become legal residents:
- Get sponsored by a relative who is also legal (not possible for Rosa, since her parents are undocumented) or have a spouse sponsor (again, no)
- Claim asylum status (not an option since she has been here her whole life)
- Get a DREAMers green card (usually requires an employee sponsorship and is next to impossible to acquire -- Rosa knows of exactly one person who has achieved it and it took them 12 years to obtain!)
- Have a Victim of Crimes visa (again, not applicable, since she has lived in the U.S. almost her entire life)
Without a clear road to U.S. citizenship possible for her, Rosa has been able to attend school and work as a result of the DACA program, Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which was established in 2012 under the Obama administration as a way for children of undocumented immigrants to have a chance to work and attend school legally. The program laid out basic guidelines and required applications to renew their DACA status every two years.
Rosa explains that the renewal process isn’t exactly simple; not only does it require her to travel to Tennessee every 2 years for her biometrics meeting, where her fingerprints and picture is taken, but the application and attorney fees cost her upwards of $1,000 each time. And yet, she maintains a positive attitude about what she has to go through.
“It’s not like it’s easy, but honestly, it’s better than nothing,” she says.
DACA Recipients: The NCLEX And RN License
Thanks to DACA, Rosa has been able to legally attend school and find employment in the U.S. In fact, Rosa has had to work extra hard because since she is not a U.S. citizen, she can’t get federal loans or financial aid, so she has had to work 2-3 jobs at a time to pay for her schooling.
She’s worked so hard because she is determined to become a nurse. Not only is Rosa passionate about her chosen career path to ensure a more visible Hispanic presence in healthcare, but she says she has always wanted to care for others and make a difference.
“I’ve always had that heart, and it’s been instilled in me to help,” she explains. “Ever since I was little watching the St. Jude’s commercials, I would cry and think, ‘I want to help those kids.’ A lot of little things have helped me feel like it was my destiny.”
Her destiny to becoming a nurse, however, is being threatened as the DACA program has been upended by the Trump administration as of fall 2017. There have been various starts and stops to the program, as well as state lawsuits against its termination, but the ramifications of the uncertainty of DACA has had a devastating impact for Rosa — the Arkansas State Board of Nursing has determined that DACA recipients will no longer be eligible to sit for the NCLEX nursing licensure exam.
Rosa recounts that the night she found out that she would not be able to take the NCLEX was the same night she had participated in her nursing school’s white coat ceremony. She had returned from the festivities and logged onto Facebook only to see an article pop up about the decisions.
“I started to read it and I just started crying,” she remembers. “It’s always been a fight, trying to prove yourself, paying out-of-state tuition, seeing all your friends graduate before you because you don’t have the means to take all your classes and not work; it’s just another hit to the stomach — you’ve gotten this far but the fight isn’t over: here’s another hurdle.”
Keeping The Dream Alive: Next Steps
After her school officially broke the news to her, they offered her two options:
- she could withdraw with a full refund
- or she could continue on, knowing that she couldn’t sit for her nursing boards.
Rosa chose to keep going.
As far as she knows, she is the only student in her immediate nursing program who is faced with being barred from taking the NCLEX, although she knows there are others like her across the country.
The challenges for students like Rosa are immense, as many don’t have the necessary funds to travel to a state that allows them to be tested for licensure.
“It’s difficult because there are not as many Latinos in healthcare,” she notes. “I want to change that but you have to fight; it’s always been a fight to prove your worth and stuff like that just makes it even harder.”
Going Out Of State To Take The NCLEX
With her graduation a little over a year away, Rosa’s plan is to go to one of the four states that will allow former DACA recipients to sit for the NCLEX
- New York
She admits that she has moments where she feels defeated but remembering how hard she has worked and how much her mother has sacrificed for her keeps her going.
“It’s something that I’ve been working towards and fighting for, six years,” she notes. “I’m going to be 25 by the time I finish, not because I wanted to be, but because that’s the situation. It’s about perseverance; just because I hit a hurdle in the road, I can’t quit. I have to shake it off.”
Encouraging Those Who Can Vote - To Vote
Since the DACA developments, Rosa has become involved in advocating for legislative changes at both the local and state levels. She joined the state Board of Directors with the Arkansas Nursing Student's Association and has been pushing to change in the law in their state, although she is not hopeful it will happen before her own graduation.
In the meantime, Rosa is encouraging all of her fellow nurses, nursing students, and those who can vote to exercise their voice to help pass legislation that could help students like her have a real path to citizenship.
Help Rosa Keep Her Dreams Alive
Rosa's friend and fellow nursing student, Wes, from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock surprised Rosa and created a GoFundMe page for the aspiring nurse.
He hopes to help Rosa raise $2000, "we are hoping to raise enough money to help Rosa pay for her travel to California after graduation to obtain a nursing license. Expenses would help with her travel, NCLEX test fees, and fees associated with obtaining a nursing license!"
Rosa Will Not Give Up On Trying To Become A Nurse
“If we can get one thing, it’s better than nothing,” she adds.
No matter what happens in the future, however, one thing is for certain: Rosa will not give up on trying to become a nurse.
“I need to finish,” she says. “I owe it to my mom and I need to fulfill my life and in order to do that, I have to keep going — I can’t stop.”
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