An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Health Care Workers Await Supreme Court DACA Decision


The Supreme Court could decide as early as tomorrow the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, DACA. That's the Obama-era program that protects immigrants who came to this country illegally when they were kids. In 2017, the Trump administration tried to rescind DACA, arguing that Obama illegally created it. Now it is up to the Supreme Court.

More than 90% of DACA recipients are students or they are working. Some of them are the health care workers on the frontlines in the COVID-19 pandemic. Our co-host David Greene talked to two nurses who are dealing with the emotional toll of saving lives while also waiting to find out the fate of their own status in this country. Here's David.

DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: Twenty-nine-year-old Estefania Betancourt Macias (ph), an ER nurse in Vancouver, Wash., was working the night shift when a patient came in with COVID-19.

ESTEFANIA BETANCOURT MACIAS: We got him in the middle of the night in respiratory distress. His oxygen levels were really low. And I just remember him telling me, I can't breathe.

GREENE: This has been her first year on the job, and as one of the only Spanish-speaking nurses in her hospital, she tried to comfort her patient as they were preparing to put him on a ventilator.

BETANCOURT MACIAS: I was the only person in that room that he could communicate with, and I just remember him, like, he was - he was crying. He was in distress. In the heat of the moment, I'm a nurse first, but I also had to be a human being, and I had to comfort this man. And I was able to connect with him and, you know, tell him, like, I know you're scared, but we are here to help you.

GREENE: Javier Quiroz Castro (ph) had almost the same experience. He is also 29. He's also a DACA recipient. He works in a COVID-19 unit at Houston Methodist West Hospital in Texas. And one of his patients, a young dad, needed to be intubated.

JAVIER QUIROZ CASTRO: You know, he was very, very emotional, very scared. He really thought that he was going to die. He wanted me to reassure him that everything was going to be OK. And I don't like making promises that I can't keep, but I just - I had to tell him, yeah, you're going to make it. You're going to hold your daughter again. You know, he showed me a picture of his daughter. I showed him a picture of my daughter. I was like, how do you not want to do everything you can? Because that guy could easily be me.

GREENE: So his patient survived, reunited with his daughter and now recovering at home. As for Estefania Betancourt Macias, she never found out what happened to that man she was caring for that night. And so she has this stress of worrying about her patients' futures, also wondering about her own. The Supreme Court decision could determine her immigration status and her future in the U.S.

BETANCOURT MACIAS: My patients don't know that I'm an undocumented person living in the U.S. They just see that I'm their nurse, and I just see them as my patient. And so, you know, to have the thought that this could be taken away from me is really hard. It's really hard.

GREENE: She was 8 years old when her mom brought her and her sisters to the U.S. from Mexico. Under DACA, she was able to go to nursing school and get a work permit. But if the Supreme Court finds that the president had legal justification to rescind DACA, she and an estimated 27,000 health care workers would be eligible for deportation.

BETANCOURT MACIAS: We feel like we're invisible and we are disposable at any time. It puts a toll on your mental health for sure.

GREENE: And it's the same for Quiroz Castro, whose family left Mexico when he was 3. He says he is just tired of living in limbo.

QUIROZ CASTRO: Yeah, I mean, it's - I don't know. I just, you know, when I'm at work, I can't think of DACA or the Supreme Court. I have to focus on my job. But when I'm outside of work, it definitely, you know, hits me. You realize, you know, there's people in this country that don't want you here.

GREENE: The Supreme Court's decision on the future of DACA could come as early as tomorrow, and this could impact the lives of more than 650,000 DACA recipients here in the U.S. As for Javier Quiroz Castro and Estefania Betancourt Macias, they say they're just going to continue fighting COVID-19, caring for their patients through this pandemic as long as they can.

KING: That was our co-host David Greene reporting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.