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This DACA recipient was a top Diman grad. Now she's a nurse on the front lines of COVID.

Hina Naveed, a Diman graduate, now works as a COVID nurse on the front line in New York City USA Today
Hina Naveed, a Diman graduate, now works as a COVID nurse on the front line in New York City USA Today

Senator Dick Durban speaking about Hina Naveed

Audra Cooney
The Herald News

A Diman graduate and DACA recipient who spent most of last year working on the front lines of the pandemic is hoping to combat the inequalities she’s witnesses as a health care worker and immigrant.

“Every experience I had showed me how broken our systems are,” said Hina Naveed. “It’s just everywhere you look, there are things than can be improved and must be improved."

In 2001, when Naveed was 10, she and her family moved to the U.S. from Dubai seeking medical care for her older sister. Eventually, the family settled in Fall River to have close access to Boston hospitals. Naveed attended Morton Middle School and then Diman.

“I knew I wanted to go to Diman even before I got there. I loved everything about Diman and knew I wanted to go into their health careers program,” she said.

Through a problem with their immigration paper work, Naveed’s family lost their status as legal immigrants to the U.S. and officially became undocumented. But, doctors told her parents that disrupting her older sister’s medical care to leave the country would have a severely negative impact on her fragile health.

“My parents made the decision that any parent would and chose to overstay and fight for her health," she said.

After graduating from Diman, she moved with her family to New York City. In 2013, Naveed became a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, an Obama-era policy that provides protection from deportation and work authorization in two-year increments for undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements, including having arrived in the U.S. as a child and having no criminal record.

“That allowed me to finish my dream that started at Diman, which was to become a nurse,” she said.

When she became a registered nurse in 2016, she signed up to be part of a volunteer corps that helps understaffed medical facilities during disasters. But, she wasn’t called into action until March of last year, as the pandemic bore down on New York and hospitals were overrun.

On top of her full time job as medical director for a foster care agency, Naveed spent her weekends from March to August of 2020 volunteering through the corps at a hospital caring for COVID-19 patients and a nursing home. At the hospital, she cared for patients who had tested positive or were presumed positive but were not sick enough to be put in the ICU. In the nursing home, COVID eventually spread throughout the entire facility.

At times, her volunteer experience was a harrowing one, with PPE shortages meaning she and her colleagues had to wipe down and reuse the same supplies like masks and goggles shift after shift.

“Being in a situation where universal precautions went out the window, when we knew we shouldn’t be reusing supplies but we were anyway, it was concerning at times,” she said.

While most of her hospital patients went on the recover, Naveed saw many of the nursing home's residents die from the virus. 

“It definitely took a toll," she said.

On top of her work as a nurse, Naveed has become an advocate for immigration rights, participating in rallies and marches, lobbying in Albany and D.C. and leading workshops to help more people access DACA. She recently graduated from law school, which she attended while working for the foster care agency and volunteering on the front lines, and said she hopes to start a new career advocating for changes to the healthcare and immigration systems.

Naveed said her work has shown her the way systemic inequities pervade society, from inadequate medical care for foster children and the disproportionally high maternal mortality rate for Black mothers to the barriers preventing undocumented immigrants from receiving organ transplants and the outsized impact the pandemic has had on people of color and those with the lowest incomes. 

"As we’ve seen in the pandemic and in crises before that, our systems need… a major upheaval so they actually serve the people they claim they are committed to serving," she said.

She said it occurred to her at times over the past year that her uncertain immigration status was at odds with the crucial work she was doing.

“I’m essential enough to work and put my life at risk, but not essential enough to be given a path to citizenship?” she said.

But, according to Naveed, the focus on “model minorities” as the ones most deserving of citizenship is a dead end. She believes there should be a pathway for citizenship for everyone.

“It’s about humanity and recognizing our collective value,” she said.