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August 27, 2019

MassLive: ‘The cruelty is the point,’ Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley says of sick children being ordered to leave U.S.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley described the Trump administration’s overhaul of the country’s immigration policies as a “coordinated attack of cruelty,” the latest example being the federal government’s letters ordering severely ill children and their families to leave the country in 33 days.

“The cruelty is the point,” said Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat representing the 7th District.

Pressley spent roughly an hour speaking with locals at the Somerville Housing Authority about facial recognition technology, the 2020 census and other issues affecting the Greater Boston area.

Deferred action is a form of temporary relief that foreign nationals receive for qualifying humanitarian reasons, including “serious medical conditions.” Those who receive medical deferred action do not qualify for legal permanent residency, but they grant patients and their loved ones permission to be in the country to obtain medical treatment from U.S. hospitals.

Pressley said she heard about patients at Boston Medical Center who received letters from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The letter from USCIS states that the agency is no longer processing non-military requests and that the federal government would initiate deportation proceedings against the recipients if they didn’t leave the country in 33 days.

The agency said in an email that this isn’t the end of deferred action based on medical conditions and that Immigration and Customs Enforcement will process non-military deferred action requests, but the letter gave no guidance for applicants to appeal or re-apply for the protections.

USCIS said in an email that the agency has received about 1,000 deferred action requests annually over the past few years, but the majority have not been approved.

It is unclear exactly how many people in Massachusetts are affected by this policy change, but advocates said they know of at least 20 people in the Boston area.

Pastor Dieufort J. Fleurissaint, chairman of Haitian-Americans United, said nearly a dozen clients likely will be affected by the policy change.

One mother named Marie said her son fell ill in 2013 while they were visiting the United States. She took him to a local hospital and learned he had a severe case of sickle cell anemia.

Marie said it took four years for USCIS to process her application for deferred action and received it in 2017. Last week, she received a letter from the agency telling her she and her 13-year-old son have 33 days to leave the country.

“They don’t have any treatment there to treat the sickle cell disease,” she said. “At any time, they can die. They can have a stroke.”

Marie, who declined to give her last name, said her son has spent the last six years receiving care in a Boston-area hospital for sickle cell anemia. Last week, she received a letter from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services telling her that she and her son must leave the country within 33 days.

Jonathan Sanchez, a 16-year-old boy from Honduras, is being treatment for cystic fibrosis at Boston Children’s Hospital. His parents fear they will receive a similar letter from the federal government ordering them to leave.

What would happen if they’re sent back to Honduras? “He would die,” Mariela Sanchez said.

Pressley said she and the other Massachusetts lawmakers, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, are drafting a letter to the Department of Homeland Security in response to the policy change. She said she’s also exploring what the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, on which she serves, can do in response.