TRUMP ADMINISTRATION CHANGES “MEDICAL DEFERRED ACTION” PROGRAM

Written by: Taher Kameli, Esq.

While it is often asserted that immigration programs can involve “life or death” consequences, this argument is especially applicable to the “medical deferred action” program.  The “medical deferred action” program allows immigrants to remain in the United States for two-year periods if they can prove extreme medical need. Many of the immigrants covered by the “medical deferred action” program came to the United States through a visa or other permitted status for a period of time and are requesting to stay beyond this period of time to receive necessary medical treatment.  In another of its seemingly unending efforts to revise the United States immigration system, the Trump administration is changing the “medical deferred action” program.

No formal public announcement was made in advance by any government agency of the Trump administration concerning this modification of the “medical deferred action” program.  Instead, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in August has been sending letters to immigrants under the “medical deferred action” program, advising them that USCIS will no longer defer their deportations based on their medical conditions.  As an example, one such letter states, “Thank you for your request for deferred action. [USCIS] field offices no longer consider deferred action requests, except those made according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policies for certain military members, enlistees, and their families.  As such, your request for deferred action has been denied. The record indicates that USCIS scheduled you for an interview on . . . However, this interview is cancelled since USCIS will not process your deferred action request. The evidence of record shows that, when you submitted your request, you were present in the United States contrary to law.  You are not authorized to remain in the United States. If you fail to depart the United States within 33 days of the date of this letter, USCIS may issue you a Notice to Appear and commence removal proceedings against you with the immigration court. This may result in your being removed from the United States and found ineligible for a future visa or other U.S. immigration benefit.  See sections 237(a) and 212(a)(9) of the INA”.

One family that received such a letter as described above is the Sanchez family.  16-year old Jonathan Sanchez, who was born in Honduras, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as a baby, after his parents sent blood samples to the United States.  The Sanchez family entered the United States on tourist visas in 2016 and had filed a pending request with USCIS under the “medical deferred action” program. Jonathan stated, “If they deny the program, then I need to go back to my country, and I’ll probably die because in my country, there’s no treatment for [cystic fibrosis]. . . .  Doctors don’t even know what’s the disease. The only ones who can help me are here in the United States”. Jonathan’s father, Gary, stated, “Before my son, we had a daughter with cystic fibrosis, but she died in our country, since, in our country, there are no medical specialists or centers specialized in cystic fibrosis”. Jonathan’s mother, Mariela, stated, “I have panic attacks over this every day”.

Anthony Marino, head of immigration legal services at the Irish International Immigrant Center, believes that in Boston alone the elimination of the “medical deferred action” program would adversely affect about 20 families with children fighting cancer, HIV, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, and other serious conditions.  Marino asked, “Can anyone imagine the government ordering you to disconnect your child from life-saving care – to pull them from a hospital bed – knowing that it will cost them their lives?”. Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ed Markey stated, “This is a new low. . . . Donald Trump is literally deporting kids with cancer”.

Whether in fact always intended (although certainly not expressly stated in the letter described above) or a reaction to criticism about the apparent elimination of the “medical deferred action” program after this news was published in the media, on August 26, a USCIS spokeswoman advised that the “medical deferred action” program was not eliminated, but rather was changed in that “medical deferred action requests are now submitted to ICE for consideration”.  On August 27, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesman stated that “as with any request for deferred action, ICE reviews each case on its own merits and exercises appropriate discretion after reviewing all the facts involved”. Given the anti-immigration actions by ICE under the Trump administration, it is unclear if putting ICE, instead of USCIS, in charge of the “medical deferred action” program is just a change in, or in fact in effect the elimination of (if ICE generally declines the specific requests by persons seeking a “medical deferred action”), the “medical deferred action” program.

If the Trump administration is in effect attempting to eliminate the “medical deferred action” program, it would just be the latest, although perhaps the most cruel, anti-immigration policy proposed by the Trump administration.  In this environment, immigrants need to retain the services of skilled immigration lawyers, such as the Law Offices of Kameli and Associates, which has successfully represented immigrants for many years, to assist with their immigration issues.  If you need assistance with any immigration issue, please contact the Law Offices of Kameli and Associates, at taher@kameli.com or 312-233-1000, for support.