On April 12, 2018, an episode of "Grey's Anatomy" entitled "Beautiful Dreamer" aired for the first time. As with many Shondaland TV show episodes, this hour tackled an important social and political issue: DACA and deportation.
At the beginning of the episode, Meredith notes in her voiceover that "it takes almost 15 years to prepare to be a surgeon." Sam Bello, an intern, is nearing the end of her 15 years of preparation. The arrival of an ICE agent at Grey-Sloan Memorial, however, takes those years of preparation away with a single warrant.
Dr. Bello is a DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, holder. This is an immigration status that applies to people who entered the U.S. without inspection (commonly known as illegally) before age 16 and had not turned 31 before June 15, 2012.
These people have to have had continuous residence in the United States since June 15, 2007, and must be pursuing or must have completed an education or military service. There are also specific criminal conviction rules involved in DACA eligibility. If a person meets these requirements and can pay the fee, they will receive two years of deferred deportation action and a work permit. This designation is renewable as of now, but the Trump administration is making strides to end this program.
However, I want to make it clear that NO NEW UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS CAN APPLY FOR DACA, DACA IS NOT AUTOMATICALLY GIVEN TO ANYONE THAT MEETS THE REQUIREMENTS, THEY MUST PAY THE FEE, and THERE IS NO PATH TO CITIZENSHIP FOR DACA HOLDERS.
In the episode, Dr. Bailey and Dr. Grey rush Dr. Bello into an exam room to hurriedly explain what is going on. Bailey and Grey are the ones to jump to conclusions that many Americans make - they ask if she's undocumented and suggest the agent may just want to check her papers. Similarly, Bello jumps to the conclusions most DACA holders/Dreamers (fun fact: Dreamer is not technically the correct term because the DREAM Act was never passed) make in this situation: she fears the agent is at the hospital to deport her and wants to run.
Bello describes a friend who was interning at a law firm and arrested following an interview with an ICE agent at her job. Bello laments that her friends were dropped off in Mexico City, without any usable money and was unable to speak Spanish. Her friend had lived in the United States since she was two years old.
No toddler actively decides to pick up their life and move to another country - they just go with their hopeful parents. Do you remember what your life was like before age two? I sure don't. But as a DACA holder, undocumented immigrant, or even a green card holder (aka a legal permanent resident), you are at risk of being deported for any reason at all and getting sent back to a country you may barely remember. So what happened to Bello's friend is a real thing that can happen to anyone who is not a U.S. citizen.
Bello is in a similar situation. She moved to the U.S. from El Salvador as a 1-year-old. All of her family now lives in the U.S. but are presumedly undocumented and have not been able to return to El Salvador for that reason. Meredith suggests that Sam marry her boyfriend, Andrew Deluca, while Jo suggests that Sam should fake her own death and create a new identity. Both of these options are very complex, but Meredith and Jo do an excellent job of alluding to the kinds of dangers undocumented immigrants go to to get into the country and avoid deportation.
Eventually, it is revealed that Bello ran a red light after working a long shift at the hospital and that the agent was indeed there to deport her.
While the situation on "Grey's" is a bit of an exaggeration, anyone who is not a U.S. citizen is at risk of being deported for a variety of crimes. It's not likely Sam would be deported for running one red light in her whole life, but the way the law is written gives ICE and the rest of the government the power to do so if they please.
Bello ends up with a semi-happy ending as she gets to go work for Cristina in Zurich, but it is very unlikely that she will ever be able to return to the United States, all because she ran a red light like most people do at least once in their lives. Clearly, there is something wrong with our immigration policy here in the U.S. if kind-hearted people like Bello are getting deported (and they are).
The relevance and accuracy of this episode proves it's time for us to step up as a nation both to educate people like Grey and Bailey and to start looking at people like Bello as assets rather than nuisances.