I started working as an intensive-care unit nurse right around the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit Washington state. And while the numbers of infected patients are now decreasing at my hospital, which is about two hours east of Seattle, I still have anxiety going into work. I’m a brand-new ICU nurse, so I worry about my patients’ health, and I’m also nervous about my own status as a resident of the United States.

I was brought to this country from Mexico when I was 11 to reunite our family with my dad, who already was living in Washington state. Transitioning to a new country was rough, but focusing on my schoolwork helped me adapt. As I got older, I decided to become a nurse because my grandpa died of a heart attack at 52 due to untreated diabetes. Maybe if there had been someone to help him manage his diet, counsel him to exercise and take care of himself, he might still be with us.

When I graduated from high school in 2011 with a 3.98 GPA, I was devastated to learn that I couldn’t apply for financial aid or even apply to four-year colleges. As an undocumented individual, I didn’t have a Social Security number.

'Nothing compares to this' says Jessica Esparza on working as an ICU nurse during the coronavirus pandemic

But then came June 2012. That’s when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was put into place. DACA has given almost 700,000 people like me, who were brought to the United States as children, the chance for a real future here. I was able to apply for DACA and then to nursing school. And while federal financial aid isn’t available for undocumented students or DACA recipients, I was determined. So, I applied for scholarships from local organizations, colleges and my high school.

In 2015, I graduated with an associate degree in nursing, and in 2019 I graduated from a community college program that offered a bachelor’s degree in nursing (with a 4.0 GPA). Because of DACA, I have an education that can’t be taken away from me.

And that’s not all. DACA provides people with work permits so that we can work legally in this country, contributing to society like the members of our communities that we are. It also protects me from being deported to a country I haven’t been connected to since I was a child. But now, with the program under threat by the Trump administration, all of that could change, and the life I’ve worked so hard for could be taken away.


Any time now, the U.S. Supreme Court could decide to uphold the Trump administration’s efforts to end DACA. The timing couldn’t be worse, and not just for me. I’m one of about 27,000 DACA recipients who work as front-line health-care professionals battling COVID-19 and caring for patients who are fighting for their lives during this pandemic.

In April, the Supreme Court agreed to accept an additional filing by the National Immigration Law Center and others that urged the Court to consider the significant impact DACA people are having during the COVID-19 crisis and how dangerous it would be to deport them.

I try not to worry about what could happen. Instead, I focus on caring for my patients. My patients don’t care where I’m from, they don’t care about the color of my skin or my accent. They just know that I’m caring for them — trying to comfort them and helping them get better.

As nurses, we don’t refuse to provide care to any person because of their race, where they’re from or any other reason. It’s heartbreaking to know that there are people who want to deport me because of where I’m from and the color of my skin. It’s heartbreaking to know that, as a nurse, I have everyone’s back — but everyone doesn’t have mine.

I am so proud to have a job where I’m able to give to my community. Even if I weren’t a nurse, my work would still be something that contributes to the livelihood of this country. Whether we’re bagging groceries, working in labs, serving food or driving trucks, we’re all contributing. In fact, every year individuals and families in the DACA program pay “$5.7 billion in federal taxes and $3.1 billion in state and local taxes,” according to the Center for American Progress. It’s clear that DACA recipients are making vital economic and social impacts in the states and communities where we live and work.

I hope that one day I can become a legal resident and then a citizen of this country that I love — where my family lives and where my life is. If this crisis has taught me anything, it’s that I and my fellow DACA recipients belong in this country. This is our home.