On August 7, the Trump administration sent notices to many immigrants with life-threatening health conditions that they had 33 days to leave the country. Before the notice, these immigrants had been given deferred departure, renewed year after year, because of their need for life-saving medical treatment in the United States. The New York Times reported on Maria Bueso’s story:
“Maria Isabel Bueso was 7 years old when she came to the United States from Guatemala at the invitation of doctors who were conducting a clinical trial for the treatment of her rare, disfiguring genetic disease. The trial was short on participants, and thanks to her enrollment, it eventually led the Food and Drug Administration to approve a medication for the condition that has increased survival by more than a decade.
“Now 24, Ms. Bueso, who had been told she likely would not live past adolescence, has participated in several medical studies. She has won awards for her advocacy on behalf of people with rare diseases, appearing before lawmakers in Washington and in Sacramento. Over the years, her parents have paid for the treatment that keeps her alive with private medical insurance.
“But last week, Ms. Bueso received a letter from the United States government that told her she would face deportation if she did not leave the country within 33 days, an order described by her doctor, lawyer and mother as tantamount to a “death sentence.”…
“The policy change is the latest in a series of moves by the Trump administration to revoke or modify procedures that have allowed certain immigrants to remain in the United States on humanitarian grounds. In addition to those with serious medical conditions, they included crime victims who have helped law enforcement with investigations and caretakers of sick children or relatives….
“Neither the drug nor the medical care that [Ms. Bueso] requires is available in Guatemala.”
In other words, if Maria Bueso stays in the United States, she can continue her medical treatment and can continue to contribute to research on her disease. If she if forced to return to Guatemala, she will die.
When the news broke, administration officials waffled. The letters did not mean they were ending the program, officials said. They were just ending U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) administration of the program. In the future, the medical deferred action program would be administered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Nope, said ICE. Nobody told us about that.
On Friday, August 31, administration officials confirmed: they are closing down the medical deferred action program.
Anger over the decision exploded, with news stories of children suffering from cancer, cystic fibrosis, and HIV, among other illnesses, who would now be sent back to countries without medical care for their conditions, facing a virtual death sentence.
Today, September 2, USCIS announced that it was reversing course—maybe. USCIS said that no deportation proceedings have actually been started against the immigrants who received the letter ordering them to leave the country. Now USCIS will “reconsider” its decision. “However, it did not say whether it would continue to grant immigrants extensions to stay in the country or whether the program would be continued after current applications are processed.”
That doesn’t sound like much of a guarantee for the future.