Hina Naveed had almost realized her dream. The 25-year-old, who came to the United States from Pakistan in 2001, graduated from the College of Staten Island with an associate’s degree in January, passed her nursing exam in April, and applied for a license to practice in New York State.
“I would love to work in the emergency room,” Naveed told NBC News. “I feel like that’s where my passion is.”
“My parents were faced with the option of leaving, as we were required to, or staying because my sister’s medical condition at that moment was at a critical point. Her doctors had strongly advised my parents against leaving.”
But there was a hitch — state rules currently prohibit the issuing of 53 professional licenses, including those for nursing and teaching, to applicants with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, a program approved by President Barack Obama in 2012 that temporarily removes the threat of deportation for undocumented immigrant children and also grants them authorization to work. Naveed was approved for DACA in 2013.
On Tuesday, two amendments to open these licenses to New York’s 36,072 DACA recipients are expected to be taken up by the state Board of Regents. If adopted, they would go into effect on June 1. Among those urging approval are the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and four other city agencies, including the health and education departments, which sent a letter to the board in April during the amendments’ comment period.
Discussions on the amendments come almost a year after a New York appeals court approved DACA recipient Cesar Vargas’ application to the state bar.
Sonia Lin, general counsel and policy director at the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, told NBC News that allowing DACA recipients to become licensed could expand the number and diversity of people in professions like healthcare and education, as well as increase economic opportunities for New Yorkers otherwise eligible and qualified to work in these areas.
“We see the potential of this proposal to really support and enhance our city’s economic vitality,” she said.
While it’s hard to say how many New York City immigrants may benefit from the proposed rule change, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs told NBC News there are roughly 18,000 city residents who are DACA recipients and have completed some college, according to estimates by the NYC Center for Economic Opportunity.
For Naveed and her family, a brain disorder occurring in less than one percent of the population was what brought them to the United States and what stoked Naveed’s interest in nursing.
Naveed was 12 when she arrived, and her older sister Aleeza was seeking treatment for an arteriovenous malformation, a condition in which blood vessels tangle, causing seizures and strokes. They had entered on a visa, but while in the U.S. their renewal application was denied, their visa expired, and they fell out of status, she said.
“My parents were faced with the option of leaving, as we were required to, or staying because my sister’s medical condition at that moment was at a critical point,” Naveed said. “Her doctors had strongly advised my parents against leaving.”
So they stayed.
“It was a difficult choice, but I think it’s the same choice any parent would have made to choose to stay and fight for the child they came here for,” Naveed said.
One of five children, Naveed said being undocumented felt as if her life was on hold. She could continue attending college for as long as she wanted, but she couldn’t apply for a job or a driver’s license, she said.
Naveed’s older brother was the first to apply for DACA when it became available in 2012, paving the way for her and her siblings to do the same, she said. DACA requirements include being under the age of 31 as of 2012, coming to the U.S. before the age of 16, and living continuously in the country since 2007. Naveed has renewed her DACA status twice, she said.
“It was a difficult choice, but I think it’s the same choice any parent would have made to choose to stay and fight for the child they came here for."
Naveed, who has worked for the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs for a little more than a year on immigrant outreach, said that although she initially majored in pre-med and wanted to become a doctor, licensing requirements led her down the nursing path instead. The level of care and compassion her sister Aleeza received from nurses and doctors while undergoing treatment solidified her passion to enter the healthcare field, Naveed said.
While licenses regulated by the Board of Regents are open to citizens, permanent residents, asylees, refugees, and certain others with lawful status, deferred-action recipients were excluded until the board voted in February to add them. That decision drew criticism from some Republicans.
New York state Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, the borough where Naveed lives, told the Staten Island Advance in February that the board shouldn’t be changing such regulations without debate and a vote in the State Legislature.
"The lack of urgency from Washington to reform and enforce immigration laws are leading to policies like this all over the country," she said.
A similar law went into effect in California in 2014, allowing licenses in fields like nursing and medicine to be granted regardless of immigration or citizenship status.
Up until this month, Naveed’s licensing application had still been pending. But just last week, Naveed received some good news ahead of the Board of Regents meeting Monday on whether to adopt the DACA amendments — her nursing license had been granted.
“I have always loved the healthcare field, and even though I had heard I couldn't go into medicine due to my status, I was able to find my passion in nursing,” said Naveed, who will receive her bachelor’s in nursing next May. “I am really excited about finally being able to give back to my community as a nurse."