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Oct 01, 2014 03:42 AM EDT

UW Medical School Modifies Policy to Welcome Illegal Immigrants

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University of Washington School of Medicine has followed other American higher educational institutions in granting admissions to illegal immigrants.

"We felt we were really catching up to the rest of the UW," said Carol Teitz, associate dean for admissions at the medical school. "It's the right thing to do," said Benji Perin, a third-year UW medical student, who led the effort to alter the school policy, Seattle Times reports.

Besides UW, at least 35 other medical schools welcomed undocumented students, who are registered in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In addition to being enrolled in DACA, medical-school applicants must also meet certain residency requirements for their state.

DACA, created two years ago by the Obama administration, provides illegal immigrants a temporary quasi-legal status. The program temporarily suspends deportation and permits participants to work in the U.S.

Opponents claim that DACA weakens the U.S. immigration law by temporarily providing legal status to people who entered the country illegally. Plus, it triggers fierce competition for the few medical-school seats available.

However, students argue that diversity of aspirant doctors enhances medical care. "There was a time when people were anxious about the increased competition from women coming to medical school," Perin said.

Daniel Low, a third-year medical student, said that there has never been an attitude of "us versus them" signifying that DACA students could snatch seats away from native students. "We're all 'us' - we all live in Washington, went to school together and care deeply about providing the best health care possible to our community," Low said. "So there is no 'them.' "

The inspiration to lobby the UW administration for policy change came from a Seattle Times story about a UW graduate who could not apply for medical school because he was brought in to the U.S. illegally from Mexico as a baby. "It was indeed a group of very enterprising students," Teitz said.

The state of Washington has always been pro-immigrant compared to others in the country. In 2003, a Washington state law allowed in-state tuition to undocumented students who grew up in the state.

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