Commonwealth Magazine: Trump reverses course on immigrant medical program

September 19, 2019
In The News

IN AN ABRUPT about-face, the Trump administration is reversing course on the recent declaration that it was ending a policy that allows seriously ill immigrants to remain in the country legally to receive medical treatment.

The protected status, called “medical deferred action,” was eliminated on August 7 when the US Customs and Immigration Services agency began sending letters to patients and families requiring them to leave the country within 33 days or face deportation.

The news prompted widespread condemnation from Democrats and immigrant advocates, who called the policy change a cruel move that would cost seriously ill patients their lives.

An internal email sent to CommonWealth on Thursday by a senior immigration official says that under the direction of Acting US Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, the program will be resuming.

In the email, which was circulated through the agency, US Customs and Immigration Services said it is resuming its consideration of medical deferred action applications on a case-by-case basis “except as otherwise required by an applicable statute, regulation, or court order.” Citizenship and Immigration Services receives approximately 1,000 deferred action requests annually according to the agency.

Outcry against the ending of medical deferred action was led by US Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Boston, and Rep. Mark DeSaulnier of Maryland. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey also voiced strong opposition to the change.

Pressley, who helped spearhead a bicameral letter signed by 120 members of Congress to the Department of Homeland Security, had requested the department and its agencies provide documentation and explanation as to the decision-making that led to the policy change. Pressley began the subpoena process earlier this week after the agencies did not meet her September 13 deadline with answers.

“This is for all of the children and families who have been dehumanized by this cruel Administration,” she said in reaction to Thursday’s reversal.

Pressley said restoration of the program will be huge for Jonathan Sanchez, a 16-year-old who left Honduras in search of cystic fibrosis treatment in the Boston, Maria Isabel Bueso, a young woman from Guatemala who suffers from a rare genetic disorder called Maroteaux-Lamy syndrome, and Serena Badia, a 14-year-old from Spain whose American doctors are rebuilding her pulmonary artery after three failed surgeries in Spain. Sanchez and Bueso testified earlier this month before a House Oversight Subcommittee, sitting on the same panel as two representatives from ICE and USCIS who present to answer questions about the policy change.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, chairman of the House subcommittee, and other Democrats grilled Timothy Robbins, acting executive associate director of  Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Daniel Renaud, associate director with Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Renaud and Robbins said they couldn’t answer many of the committee members’ questions because of pending litigation. The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts filed suit  challenging termination of medical deferred action.

“This is an encouraging development for the people and families whose lives were impacted by the Trump administration’s abrupt termination of medical deferred action,” an ACLU representative said of the reversal of the Trump administration policy.

The lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Boston, names as its plaintiff as the Irish International Immigrant Center, which represents 33 individuals affected by the cancellation of the program.