After Public Outcry, Feds Agree To Reopen Certain Medical Deferral Requests

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Jonathan Sanchez, a cystic fibrosis patient at Boston Children's Hospital, and his father Gary. The Sanchez family entered the U.S. in 2016 on tourist visas. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Jonathan Sanchez, a cystic fibrosis patient at Boston Children's Hospital, and his father Gary. The Sanchez family entered the U.S. in 2016 on tourist visas. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) now says it will reopen certain medical deferred action cases, including for a number of Boston-area immigrants who previously received denial letters.

The announcement comes after a tumultuous week in which federal agencies contradicted one another and severely ill patients feared a total end to the humanitarian process that allows immigrants to remain longer in the U.S. while they receive medical treatment.

WBUR first reported the apparent end of medical deferred action last week. After reporting on the denial letters, USCIS told WBUR that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was taking over medical deferred action requests.

But the next day, sources at ICE said they were blindsided by the change and had no policy or program in place to handle these requests. The denial letters we reviewed had no mention of a new policy being administered by ICE. On Friday, an ICE statement confirmed the requests are no longer an option.

Following ICE's statement, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, announced the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties will hold a hearing scheduled for Sept. 6 about the "apparent revocation of medical deferred action for critically ill children."

In its first press release on the matter, USCIS said Monday that anyone whose case was pending as of Aug. 7 will have their request reopened and reprocessed.

The government never issued any sort of public notification about the end of medical deferred action, but instead, in an email, told the American Immigration Lawyers Association:

"The change became effective on August 7, 2019. USCIS field offices are informing the public of the change in person on an individual basis."

Legal advocates across the country have reported clients receiving similar denial letters from USCIS — none of which mention the agency's claim that requests would be processed by ICE.

On Friday, 127 members of Congress, led by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Ed Markey, along with Rep. Ayanna Pressley, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, USCIS and ICE, urging the Trump administration to reinstate the program. The letter gives the administration until Sept. 13 to provide details about the decision around ending the program.

The Boston-based Irish International Immigrant Center has several clients affected by the end of medical deferred action. Executive Director Ronnie Millar said Monday that the announcement from USCIS gives some hope to families who received denial letters, but he said it doesn't go far enough.

"This announcement does little to correct the injustice of ending deferred action, and only delays the cruel effects of the government's decision," he said. "We all remain concerned that the government is ending this life-saving program."

This article was originally published on September 03, 2019.

This segment aired on September 3, 2019.


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Shannon Dooling Investigative Reporter
Shannon Dooling was an investigative reporter at WBUR, focused on stories about immigration and criminal justice.



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