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Why this ICU nurse treating Covid patients could be deported

Guillermo and Jonathan Vargas AndresImage copyright
Jonathan Vargas

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Guillermo and Jonathan Vargas Andres have been in the US for 18 years.

The US Supreme Court is considering a case that could put hundreds and thousands of people who were brought into the country illegally as children at risk of deportation. Some of those are healthcare workers dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

At the beginning of April a long line of police cars snaked slowly around a hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina with their blue lights flashing in the bright sun. It was a tribute, they said, to the healthcare workers risking their lives to treat patients with Covid-19.

But for Jonathan Vargas Andres, an ICU nurse treating Covid patients in that hospital, these grand gestures feel somewhat empty.

He’s worked in intensive care for four years in the same unit as his wife and brother – who are nurses too – and the past week has seen a spike in cases on the ward.

Jonathan is also undocumented and in the next few weeks he’ll find out whether the country that he’s risking his life to protect will decide to deport him.

“I try not to think about it because if I think about it for too long I get tired,” Jonathan says. “I’ve basically had to zone it out for my own health.”

He speaks deliberately in a soft, southern drawl. “It’s fear more than anything.”

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Getty Images

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Most Daca recipients are from Latin-America but they also come from countries all over the world.

Jonathan is a recipient of Daca – or the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals. It’s an Obama-era ruling from 2012 that shielded young people who were brought to the US illegally as children from deportation.

It provided them with work and study permits. Jonathan came from Mexico when he was 12.

In 2017, President Trump decided to end the Daca programme.

The Supreme Court is now considering a series of cases that challenge Trump’s decision and is expected to release its rulings before the end of June on whether stopping the programme was unlawful.

While these cases are pending, Daca recipients are still able to live, work and study in the US.

Any day now Jonathan could be told he no longer has to right to work or live in the United States.

Who are the “Dreamers”?

  • In order to qualify for Daca in 2012 applicants had to be under 30 and have been in the US since 2007
  • They must be in school, have recently graduated or been honourably discharged from the military
  • Applicants must have a clean criminal record and undergo an FBI background check

There are approximately 700,000 Daca recipients in the US.

The Centre for American Progress, a left-wing think tank, estimates that 29,000 of them are frontline healthcare workers – doctors, nurses, paramedics – and a further 12,900 work in other aspects of the healthcare industry.

Jonathan describes his job as a calling. He loves being a nurse despite facing a pandemic just four years into his career.

“It’s obviously scary when you’re in there,” he says. “You get very, very, very paranoid about what you touch.”

“But you kind of have to put that in the back of your mind because you’re in there to try to help these people. It’s not about you.”

His hospital has just enough personal protective equipment (PPE). They’re using it spari

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