Child Health

Without deferred action, sick immigrant children are at greater risk

September 5, 2019 | National

When Maria Isabel Bueso was 7 years old, she came to the United States at the invitation of doctors who were conducting a clinical trial for her rare genetic disease. Maria is now 24 and has participated in several medical studies and a drug trial that resulted in a treatment for her disease. Without this drug, she and others with the disease were unlikely to survive to adulthood. However, in August, Maria received a letter from the US government telling her she had to leave the country in 33 days or face deportation to Guatemala, where the life-saving drug is not available.

Maria and many other immigrants are facing these life-threatening demands because the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently eliminated non-military “deferred action,” a program which allowed some immigrants to avoid deportation if they or their relative were undergoing life-saving medical treatment. USCIS has emphasized that immigrants impacted by this change can submit deferred action requests to ICE instead, but this is a false promise. ICE officials have indicated they will only adjudicate requests from individuals who have already undergone deportation proceedings, which prevents families from proactively applying for this reprieve from deportation. This means sick children and their families will be forced to choose between life-saving medical treatment or the risk of deportation – either of which could amount to a death sentence.

Following public outrage and condemnation from medical professionals, USCIS announced earlier this week that it will re-open the cases that were pending the day it announced the policy change (August. 7th). But this announcement does nothing to protect immigrants moving forward. Children and families with reopened requests will be in the same predicament when they apply for renewal, which is required every two years. And children and families who requested deferred action after August 7th are completely out of luck.

USCIS must correct the injustice of ending non-military deferred action and reverse this policy shift in its entirety. This administration must stop pushing immigrant families into the shadows.

Today, CDF joined over 150 organizations to call for USCIS to reverse this policy in its entirety to ensure that vulnerable children and families are able to receive life-saving protection.

Read more of Maria Isabel Bueso’s story.

Learn more about the policy change and its implications.