Trump administration changes course on immigrant patients
Those told to leave the country will be allowed to stay for now
THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION abruptly changed course on Monday, allowing immigrants with serious illnesses to have their denied cases to remain in the US reopened, instead of being moved into deportation proceedings.
The medical deferred status program remains shuttered, halting the initiative for any new applicants.
The Trump administration unprecedented reversal will allow thousands of immigrants to continue seeking a renewal of their former legal immigration status. Any immigrants with pending cases on August 7 will have their cases reopened. But the new policy does not reinstate the program for future immigrant patients with severe health issues.
For families like that of Samuel Fonseca, a five-year-old boy with short bowel syndrome being treated at Boston Children’s Hospital, the Trump administration’s reversal means being able to access life-saving treatment that is not available in his home country of Brazil, even if it’s temporary. It also means his mother, Sirlen Costa, can continue to legally work while seeking a renewal for their family’s application.
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency made the announcement Monday that it will reopen the review process for those with cases pending as of August 7, which was when the agency abruptly shut down the program.
“Those denied requests that were pending on August 7 did not have removal orders pending, and have not been targeted for deportation,” the agency said in a statement sent to reporters that was posted publicly.
The decision to end medical deferred action, which was taken with no public notice, garnered widespread condemnation from elected officials and medical professionals. It also spurred a Congressional hearing set for September 6. Denial letters had been received by immigrant patients and families all over the country, from California to New York, Minnesota to Florida.
Last week, Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey called the move “unconscionable” He added: “We’ve reached the most inhumane of all of Donald Trump’s policies.”
When the medical deferred action status was originally canceled, Citizenship and Immigration Services initially planned to have the law enforcement arm of the Department of Homeland Security, known as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, deal with the deportation of immigrants. But ICE had not been told of the initial policy change and had no plan in place to implement the policy change.
The agency initially said it would not initiate deportation proceedings, but then on Friday said it would begin deporting those who stay in the country. The policy changed again on Monday, with federal officials saying immigrants with medical deferred status will not be asked to leave the country but no new applications under the program will be considered beyond those on file as of August. 7.
Citizenship and Immigration Services receives approximately 1,000 deferred action requests annually, according to the agency.
But if they seek to renew their application in the future, they will have to go through a deportation process with ICE, and attempt to seek relief from the agency.
“They created a problem and now pretend to solve it. They are not solving the problem with this new pronouncement, they are just punting it to be dealt with later,” said Mahsa Khanbabai, New England chair for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Khanbabai has four clients, including one 14-year-old girl with a congenital heart condition, who received the letters nine days ago.
“While families are grateful that their cases will be reviewed, they are concerned about what will come after that,” she said.
At the Irish International Immigrant Center, which is representing 20 clients who received the notices, there was some relief for those families.“They are relieved that USCIS will reconsider their deferred action applications,” said Ronnie Millar, executive director of the group. “But this announcement does little to correct the injustice of ending deferred action, and only delays the cruel effects of the government’s decision. We all remain concerned that the government is ending this life-saving program.”
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform planned a hearing on medical deferred action for September 6, but that may be pushed to sometime next week.