Colorado Needs Nurses

Perspective from a health-care professional and immigrant

Earlier this year, Colorado lawmakers considered a bill designed to help ease the state’s nursing shortage. The state needs about 500 more nurses than it currently has. Within the next six years, that deficit will increase seven-fold, to 4,500.  

As a nurse currently working in Summit County, I have seen how this shortage affects people in need of medical care. I have also seen how it affects the state’s physicians and systems who face their own labor shortage.

I am currently employed part-time as a nurse while I pursue a higher degree in nursing to better meet the needs of patients and communities. I expect to be working full-time, dedicating myself fully to the nursing profession, in the near future.

To keep working and furthering my education though, I need an act of Congress.

I used to be an undocumented immigrant.

My parents brought me into the United States when I was six years old. I was raised here and received my education in Summit County. I have been part of my community for more than 20 years. Colorado has been my home. My American dream was to become a nurse and provide care for those in need. After working hard and overcoming many barriers, I have achieved my dream; but now I’m fearful of having it destroyed.

There are about 1.8 million young people like me across the country. We were brought to the U.S. when we were minors. Most of us can’t remember the places where we were born. Most of us are working and paying taxes, others are still in school. Some of us have bought homes and started businesses or families. The majority have had a positive impact on the economy and the community. If we could, we would be doing much more, but there are obstacles that prevent us from giving our full potential.

Starting in 2012, Dreamers like me were eligible for a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. If we paid a fee, submitted to background checks and pledged to work, pursue higher education, or serve in the U.S. military, we could stay legally in the U.S.  for two years. 

Last fall, the U.S. Justice Department announced the Trump administration would end DACA on March 5, 2018.

DACA is the only way I get to serve my patients and community. My authorization, which is good for two years, expires in 2019. After that date, I won’t be able to legally work in this country any longer and my future as a nurse will be uncertain. I actually run the risk of being deported, not for a criminal history or felonies but for having been brought here when I was six years old.

Members of Congress from both parties have pledged to solve this problem. Colorado senators, Republican Cory Gardner and Democrat Michael Bennet, have worked together to write a bill that would allow people like me to earn citizenship after 12 years. The bill also included $25 billion for border security.

Right now, the only thing keeping DACA up and running are the decisions of two judges. The Trump administration is challenging those rulings and if a higher court agrees with the White House, DACA could immediately be shut down.

I need Congress to pass a bill like Sen. Gardner’s and Sen. Bennet’s. My patients need Congress to act. I hope that Rep. Buck will support the USA Act. Polls show between 80 and 90 percent of Americans think the Dreamers should be able to stay in the United States permanently.

The Colorado legislature should continue to address our nursing shortage, but I hope our lawmakers in Washington will do their part to ensure Colorado doesn’t lose myself and any other nurses who are living the same situation.

Viviana Baray is a nurse in Summit County.

Categories: Economy/Politics