After A Month Of Public Outcry, Immigration Officials Resume Medical Deferrals For Deportation

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The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will once again consider requests for non-military deferrals of deportation, including what are known as "medical deferred action" requests.

In an email obtained by WBUR, a senior advisor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security told stakeholders "... at the direction of Acting Secretary [Kevin] McAleenan, USCIS is resuming its consideration of non-military deferred action requests on a discretionary, case-by-case basis..."

A USCIS spokesperson confirmed the decision, saying the agency never had a "medical deferred action program," but instead was reverting back to the previous processes in place before Aug. 6.

The news comes nearly a month after WBUR first reported on the apparent end of the policy, which allows seriously ill non-citizens to apply proactively to stay in the U.S. while receiving medical treatment. Boston-area immigrants reported receiving denial letters from USCIS last month that stated the agency was no longer considering the requests and the applicant needed to leave the country within 33 days.

Following public outcry and congressional attention, USCIS agreed to reopen a limited number of cases that were pending as of Aug. 7, the date the agency says it ended the process with no public announcement. During a congressional hearing last week, government witnesses failed to provide clear information on why the USCIS process was terminated and why it ended without public notification.

Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley has been particularly outspoken about the lack of transparency and had initiated the subpoena process earlier this week. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, scheduled a second hearing for Thursday, Sept. 26. Officials from Pressley's office say both the subpoena and the hearing are still on the table.

Pressley in a statement praised several young people in the country for the treatment of serious illnesses.

"This is for all of the children and families who have been dehumanized by this cruel Administration," Pressley said. "Thank you to my colleagues and to the activism of the people, who demanded we affirm the humanity of our immigrant neighbors by reinstating medical deferred action. When we fight, we win."

Matthew Segal, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, called the change an "encouraging development." The ACLU on Sept. 5 sued the Trump administration over the USCIS decision to end medical deferments.

"We are honored to be fighting alongside these families and the Irish International Immigrant Center," he said. "We are hopeful that the government will work to restore this vital humanitarian program and look forward to hearing from the government directly in connection with our lawsuit on the IIIC’s behalf."

This segment aired on September 20, 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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