Immigration

Feds restore protections for undocumented immigrants with serious illnesses

Gary Sanchez, of Honduras, right, watches as his wife, Mariela comforts their son, Jonathan, 16, during a news conference, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019, in Boston. The Sanchez family came to the United States seeking treatment for Jonathan’s cystic fibrosis. Doctors and immigrant advocates said federal immigration authorities were unfairly ordering foreign-born children granted deferred action for medical treatment to return to their countries.
Gary Sanchez, of Honduras, right, watches as his wife, Mariela comforts their son, Jonathan, 16, during a news conference, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019, in Boston. The Sanchez family came to the United States seeking treatment for Jonathan’s cystic fibrosis. Doctors and immigrant advocates said federal immigration authorities were unfairly ordering foreign-born children granted deferred action for medical treatment to return to their countries. AP

The Trump administration reversed itself Thursday and said it will again allow immigrants who are facing serious illnesses to remain in the U.S. to get medical care without fear of deportation.

A month ago, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that the long-standing policy protecting such immigrants, known as “medically deferred action,” would apply only to military members and their families.

The agency’s move sparked nationwide outrage by immigration advocates, who said the policy change was inhumane.

On Thursday, USCIS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan ordered the sudden about-face.

“USCIS is resuming its consideration of non-military deferred action requests on a discretionary, case-by-case basis, except as otherwise required by an applicable statute, regulation, or court order,” a USCIS spokesperson told the Miami Herald in an email Thursday.

The agency’s announcement came a week after testimony from witnesses at an emergency hearing in Congress on Sept. 11 to challenge the new policy. At the same hearing, the Trump administration would not disclose who originally made the decision to change the policy, why the policy was implemented, or whether the White House was involved.

The medical deferred action was used by undocumented immigrants who needed medical care for themselves that was not available in their native countries, as well as undocumented immigrants whose children need the medical care.

Those who receive the protection of deferred action are legally allowed to be in the country for a set amount of time, but must apply for extensions under the program. The USCIS said that deferred action does not excuse any prior or future periods of illegal presence in the U.S.

A USCIS spokesperson would not say how many Florida families have medical deferred action, but said there are about 1,000 annual applicants nationwide.

Monique O. Madan covers immigration and enterprise; she previously covered breaking news and local government. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald and The Dallas Morning News. She is currently a Reveal Fellow at the Center for Investigative Reporting. She graduated from Miami Dade College and Emerson College in Boston. A note to tipsters: If you want to send Monique confidential information, her email and mailbox are open. The address is 3511 NW 91st Ave, Doral, FL 33172. You can also direct message her on social media and she’ll provide encrypted Signal details.
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