Indiana law affects DACA recipients getting professional licenses

(WISH File Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients in Indiana are in the hot seat again.

This time it’s because of a state law that now bars them from getting professional certificates and licenses.

There are a couple dozens fields that are impacted, where people need licenses, from real estate to nursing.

It all stems from a 2011 Indiana state law, but the state’s professional licensing agency recently interpreted the law, which does not include DACA recipients in the list of people who can get these licenses.

In December, Maria Saavedra’s future looked bright, with a degree in nursing from Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. She has a dream to work in a with babies in a neonatal intensive care unit as a registered nurse. She was inspired after watching nurses help her nephew who was born premature.

“I saw how amazing those nurses were. And I just wanted to do the same,” she said.

To get there, Maria has to test in as a licensed practical nurse and then apply to schools to become a registered nurse.

“The moment I got that email, everything changed,” Saavedra said.

The state’s professional licensing agency emailed her in mid-January, telling Saavedra it was against the law for her to test to become an licensed practical nurse because of her DACA status.

“I could no longer do what I wanted to do,” she said.

Maria said she and her mom illegally immigrated from Mexico to the United States 12 years ago. Maria was only 10.

“The way my parents did things was not the right way, but I was just a kid,” she said while fighting back tears.

Maria said she works at a senior home north of Indianapolis in Mulberry, Indiana, in Clinton County as a nurse’s aide, a job she can do without her degree. She makes $11 an hour, which is about half of what she’d make with her license.

“I have done nothing wrong. And that’s all I ever wanted was to help people,” she said, breaking down, pausing for a few seconds.

The impact goes beyond just Saavedra.

“We will continue to face a shortage in careers such as nursing and others where we desperately need qualified workers,” said Angela Adams, with Adams Immigration Law.

People like Saavedra are turning to immigration attorneys.

“You would expect a lawyer to know the answer to these questions. But at the end of the day, we don’t have one,” said Christian Mendoza with Mendoza Calix Law in Indianapolis.

All eyes turn to the state capitol, where state leaders, with Gov. Eric Holcomb’s support are working on a solution for people like Saavedra.

“I’m still hopeful that something changes and that I can take my test and do what I always wanted which is to help people,” she said.

Adams said said the restriction against DACA could have been easily unintentional. She said Indiana emulated a federal law that outlines who can get these professional certificates or licenses. It excludes DACA recipients.

But the law was created in 2011, a year before the administration of President Barack Obama established DACA.