FORT SMITH, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The strain on Arkansas’ healthcare system during the COVID-19 outbreak prompted Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) to ask for expedited nursing licenses. The result of legislation passed last year paves the way for a group of DACA recipients to step in.
Karla Palma is a part of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and a nursing student in Fort Smith. DACA is an immigration policy that allows undocumented individuals who were brought to the country as children to get renewable two-year periods in which they’re free from deportation and can receive work permits.
“[I want to be a nurse] to be able to help others, not only taking care of them but also making them feel comfortable and feeling like their needs are tended to,” Palma said.
Much like the rest of the country, Arkansas faces a fatigued healthcare system as the number of positive COVID-19 cases continues to grow. After HB1552 passed last summer, so does the number of DACA recipients who can earn nursing licenses.
Palma testified before both chambers in support of the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Megan Godfrey (D).
“In my mind, I’m just like, ‘what all am I gonna say?'” Palma said, reminiscing on the event. “I don’t wanna mess up. These are important people.”
The legislation was overwhelmingly supported by people in both parties, Godfrey said, and the bill passed through both chambers and was signed by Hutchinson.
“Just hearing their stories of dedication and resilience, I think, really resonated,” Godfrey said.
Immigrants who take advantage of the legislation and go into the nursing field despite all the other challenges they face on a daily basis should be commended, Godfrey said.
“I don’t speak along when I say thank you so much for your dedication, your willingness to serve and take care of all of us,” Godfrey said. “Thank you.”
Palma isn’t old enough to get into the business just yet, though she said she wishes she could be on the front lines.
“I wish I would’ve been able to be out there, and there’s a lot of respect that I have for the nurses and doctors, me wanting to pursue a career in that,” Palma said.
Palma encouraged people in her situation to keep pushing even though the Supreme Court will reevaluate DACA as soon as this summer. COVID-19 is the real threat, not immigrants, she said.
“If the Supreme Court rules negatively against us, then we shouldn’t give up or drop out of college or think that it’s the end,” Palma said.