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Once In Shadows, Local Immigrant Hopes For Congress To Move On Reform

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José Aguiluz came to the U.S. for medical care, and chose to stay to provide medical care to those who need it.
WAMU/Armando Trull
José Aguiluz came to the U.S. for medical care, and chose to stay to provide medical care to those who need it.

Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of President Obama's decision to allow some young immigrants to temporarily legalize their status.

At the Community Clinic of Takoma Park, 23 year-old nurse José Aguiluz is examining a patient.

"They usually come with a very advanced chronic disease. Sometimes it feels like you’re fighting against current and trying to get them the help they deserve because they’re humans," he said.

The clinic cares for some of Montgomery and Prince George's counties poorest patients.

"All of us who are here are here because we feel that this is our calling. We have a passion for community health," said Dr. Lanre Falusi, the clinic's associate director. She says nurses like Jose bring cultural understanding to patient care.

"I definitely see myself in them. I’m one of them," he said.

A year ago José was a construction worker.

"Working as an electrician is what paid my way through college. If I wasn’t an electrician I wouldn’t have afforded my education in nursing," he said.

But as an undocumented immigrant, that nursing degree was useless. José and his family left Honduras when he was 15—he needed life-saving treatment at Johns Hopkins.

"My parents had to sell everything they had in order to afford the surgery. The vertebrae I broke, it was a C-2, which if it was fully broken I’d probably be dead right now," he said.

With nothing in Honduras to return to, the Aguiluz family overstayed their visa. José graduated from Springbrook High in Silver Spring and then Montgomery College.

"In the time that I had the accident I was impressed by the care that the nurses provided to me. I wanted to be just like them, I wanted to be able to care for the patients the way they took care of me," he said.

When the President Obama announced his version of the DREAM Act last year, José was among the first to apply, get a work permit and a driver's license.

"The liberating feeling of coming out of the shadows, it was so powerful and it was what needed to happen," he said.

José is hopeful that Congress will pass comprehensive immigration reform so his emergence from the shadows will be permanent.

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