Indiana is no longer issuing professional licenses to young immigrants known as “Dreamers” — even as the state faces a critical health care provider shortage.
The Indiana Professional Licensing Agency (PLA) recently added questions about citizenship status to all of its professional license applications, according to reporting from Indianapolis Star reporter Tony Cook, which allows the agency to block some immigrants from obtaining such licenses. Implemented by Gov. Eric Holcomb (R), the practice was meant to comply with a 2011 omnibus immigration law that require agencies administering public benefits to verify the immigration status of all applicants. Professional licenses are considered state and local public benefits for which undocumented immigrants are not entitled to under both federal and state law.
The PLA’s policy shuts out 9,293 current Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiaries from more than 70 professional licenses in Indiana, the publication reported, in fields like cosmetology, social work, engineering, nursing, and physician assistants. DACA beneficiaries are undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children and have been granted temporary work authorization and deportation relief under an Obama-era executive action. Under state law, only U.S. citizens and qualified aliens can receive state benefits. DACA recipients are not considered qualified aliens.
The PLA’s decision to include citizenship questions has “upset” some state lawmakers including Rep. Ed Clere (R) who will introduce language during a committee hearing on Tuesday to allow current DACA recipients “already studying for a professional field to qualify for a license,” Indianapolis Star reported.
“It’s extremely unfair to tell people who have already begun or completed their course of study, or even entered a profession, that they can’t work in the field for which they’ve studied and trained,” Clere told the publication. “Indiana has effectively boxed out these young people and is sending them a terrible message.”
The 2011 Indiana state immigration law prohibits undocumented immigrants from public benefits, but it also came one year before the announcement of the DACA program in 2012. The publication reported that the state law’s author Sen. Mike Delph (R) couldn’t provide a comment until he looked further into the issue. Up until 2017, the PLA has used licensing applicants’ Social Security numbers to “determine whether there might be a question about a person’s immigration status,” but since DACA recipients have valid Social Security numbers, the agency couldn’t determine their legal statuses. The agency updated their forms between August and November 2017 to include a section on its license application forms that explicitly asked applicants to attest under the penalty of perjury that they were either U.S. citizens or a qualified alien under U.S. federal code.
The Indiana Professional Licensing Agency includes a section on its application asking applicants to swear under the penalty of perjury that they are either U.S. citizens or qualified aliens. DACA recipients are not either. (Photo: Part of a State of Indiana application for licensure as a marriage and family therapist)
The licensing change affects DACA recipients already set to graduate from career training at places like the Prosser Career Education Center where students would have prepared to take the state exam, get their licenses, and begin their professional career, according to the publication. About five or six cosmetology students with DACA are at least one or two years into their training at the school but may now be unable to get their professional licenses.
The PLA’s decision could worsen the health care provider shortage in Indiana, which needs 900 more health care providers over the next 13 years. Licensed registered nurses are the number one career in demand to fill crucially needed spots in hospitals and physician offices in the state. The decision also affects other highly-sought after careers in Indiana. There are more STEM jobs openings than unemployed STEM workers, according to a 2015 New American Economy report, but engineering careers also require professional licensing in the state. According to a ranking of the top jobs in demand put out by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, the state also has a big need for mechanical engineers (No. 13), pharmacists (No. 16), family physicians (No. 17), and social workers (No. 19), and plumbers (No. 20). All of these fields need more workers, but also require professional licenses.
The inability to move ahead with professional licensing applications may only exacerbate other issues faced by DACA recipients whose lives were upended once before when the Trump administration rolled back the program in September 2017. At the time, the Trump administration phased out current DACA statuses and ended all new DACA applications. Several states and nonprofit organizations challenged the program’s termination, resulting in an injunction that temporarily allowed DACA renewals. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday announced it would decline to hear the case, effectively allowing current DACA recipients to continue their renewal process. However, the courts have barred any new undocumented immigrants from applying to the DACA program as a first-time applicant.