Lawsuit seeks to halt termination of immigrant medical care

Alleges Trump administration actions motivated by racism

THE AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF MASSACHUSETTS and Lawyers for Civil Rights on Thursday filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the termination of a government program that allows immigrants with severe health conditions to remain in the US for treatment.  

The lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Massachusetts, names as its plaintiff the Irish International Immigrant Center, which represents 33 individuals affected or likely to be affected by cancellation of the program, called medical deferred action.  

Medical deferred action provides legal status for immigrant families seeking medical care in the US by allowing them to apply for work authorization, seek government benefits, and be protected from deportation. Citizenship and Immigration Services receives approximately 1,000 deferred action requests annually, according to the agency. 

After some confusing twists and turns, reported on first by CommonWealth, the Trump administration said it is shutting down the program, with no new or renewal applications being considered beyond those received by August 7. 

The lawsuit alleges the program’s termination will negatively affect the Irish International Immigrant Center’s 33 clients who had already obtained deferred action or are in the process of applying for it. The clients include a 10-year-old girl with cancer, a boy with burns over 70 percent of his body, and other children with cystic fibrosis, short bowel syndrome, and muscular dystrophy.  

“This is inflicting maximum cruelty,” Carol Rose, the executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said of the program’s terminationShe said the government’s action is “sending many of these children to their deaths.”  

Ronnie Millar, executive director of the Irish International Immigrant Center, said medical deferred action is a humanitarian lifeline for the children and their families. “Our clients are very brave and have suffered greatly already. We hope this lawsuit will help prevent further suffering, he said. 

In the complaint, the ACLU, along with pro bono support from Goodwin Procter, alleged that the termination of the program appeared to be motivated by racism as a part of a string of Trump administration policies “targeting non-white immigrants.”  

Screenshot of patients with medical deferred action listed in complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday.

The complaint points to comments made by Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, who noted the words on the Statue of Liberty refer to immigrants “from Europe.” Nearly all of the Irish International Immigrant Center’s clients are people of color from countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Africa. 

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

The attorneys are claiming the termination of the program is a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and Equal Protection guarantee in the US Constitution, and that the decision must be reversed.  

Citizens and Immigration Services says that it does not comment on pending litigation.