Pols seek answers on sick immigrant medical program

Pressley, Markey say Trump administration not following through on reinstatement

CONGRESSWOMAN AYANNA PRESSLEY and Sen. Ed Markey say the Trump administration has not followed through on its pledge to reinstate a program that helps seriously ill immigrants remain in the country legally without risk of deportation.

The program, called medical deferred action, provides temporary legal immigration status for sick immigrants that cannot otherwise be treated in their home countries. The program was canceled and then reinstated by the Trump administration over the past two months.

At a roundtable event at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts on Wednesday, Pressley said attorneys working for patients in the program say they have received no confirmation of the reversal from the Trump administration.

“None of their clients have received formal approval of their medical deferred action claim since the administration announced it was reinstating this program,” she said.

Pressley promised the House Oversight Committee would continue seeking answers, and said she would support subpoenaing officials because they are “evading, obstructing, and stonewalling” legislators.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services did not respond to questions about the reinstatement of the program. The agency also did not disclose how many immigrants had applied for the program since the September 19 announcement that it was being reinstated.

A spokeswoman referred to a weeks-old statement that said the agency would resume consideration of applications under the program “on a discretionary, case-by-case basis, except as otherwise required by an applicable statute, regulation, or court order.”

In its first partial walk back of the policy in early September, the agency had reopened approximately 400 requests that were pending or denied on August 7, when the controversy began.

Mahsa Khanbabai, who leads the New England Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said that in other states USCIS has already asked patients for supportive information for cases submitted months ago. “We want expedient adjudication of these cases,” she said.

One of her clients, 14-year-old Serena Badia, spoke little and softly when addressing a group of legislators Wednesday. Badia, originally from Spain, has doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital rebuilding her pulmonary artery after three failed surgeries in Spain. She was originally told she had congenital heart disease, and would not live past 12 years of age.

High school freshman Selena Badia talks with Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. Badia has a congenital heart condition that has led her to seek treatment at Boston Children’s Hospital. (By Sarah Betancourt)

Conchita Badia, Serena’s mother, said her daughter has had five heart surgeries so far, and she hopes that the uncertainty about medical deferred status can be resolved soon.

Her treatment was placed in jeopardy in August when her family received a letter from immigration services stating they had 33 days to leave the US or risk deportation. Conchita Badia said she was “relieved,” when she found out the program had been reinstated. But the family continues to worry that their application to remain for two more years will not be approved.

The parents of Jonathan Sanchez, a 16-year-old who left Honduras in search of cystic fibrosis treatment in Boston, said that their son has not received approval for medical deferred action, nor information on how his case is going. Sanchez, who testified before the House Oversight Committee about the necessity of the program, was hospitalized on Friday due to an infection in his lungs.

Citizenship and Immigration Services receives approximately 1,000 deferred action requests annually, according to the agency.

Pressley helped spearhead a letter signed by 120 members of Congress to the Department of Homeland Security requesting the agency provide to explain the decision-making that led to the policy change.

Markey told the roundtable that there needs to be repercussions for USCIS for “infliction of needless trauma” on the families who continue to deal with confusion over their legal status. “And we’re still not confident that applications are being processed normally,” he added.

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.

“My patients are living with this uncertainty,” said Dr. Sarah Kimball, director of resident education for the Immigrant and Refugee Health Program at Boston Medical Center.

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Irish International Immigrants Center said that a lawsuit against Homeland Security, filed in US District Court in Boston, is ongoing. The Irish International Immigrant Center represents 33 individuals affected by the cancellation of the program. 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.