UCI medical school student is first undocumented immigrant to graduate from program

"My parents basically broke their back to to pay for tuition," Oscar Hernandez said.
IRVINE, Calif. (KABC) -- A dream 13 years in the making was finally coming true for the first undocumented student to graduate from the University of California Irvine School of Medicine.

Oscar Hernandez was set to graduate on May 30.

"I think I won't believe it 'til I'm walking across that stage," Hernandez said.

Brought to San Diego from Mexico just before turning 2 years of age, Hernandez excelled academically and noticed an inequity in his community.

"I realized that in order for me to impact the world the way that I wanted to and serve my community, that medicine was the most effective way that I could do that," Hernandez said.

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His immigration status got in the way of access to financial aid and a driver's license.

Immigration attorneys told Hernandez a pathway to legalization did not exist for him.

"My parents basically broke their back to to pay for tuition," Hernandez said.

The recession hit, forcing Hernandez to step away from his undergraduate studies.

"I took about two years off of UC San Diego to work in any cash-paying, low-income job that I could find. At that time I didn't have any documentation and yeah, I worked at a taco shop, a laundry mat, I recorded videos at quinceañeras, whatever I could find," Hernandez said.

In 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, gave Hernandez and an estimated 700,000 beneficiaries a sigh of relief.

DACA allowed immigrants brought to the U.S. as young children to get work permits and a driver's license, not citizenship.

It was the boost helping Hernandez get onto the graduation stage this May 30, with adjustments made because of COVID-19.

The support of his community, friends, family, his hard work- all coming to fruition at a drive-through ceremony.

His next stop was a general surgery residency in Cleveland, Ohio.

"Prepare yourself as best as you can because one day the door will open and you should be the most qualified individual to walk through that door first," Hernandez said.

In 2017, the Trump administration decided to terminate DACA. That decision was in the hands of the Supreme Court which has until June 30, to come to a conclusion.
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