The Trump administration has ended a federal policy that allowed migrants not to be deported while they or their families receive life-saving medical treatments, a move advocates decried as “a death sentence” for children receiving treatment for cancer, HIV, and other life-threatening diseases.
The “medical deferred action” program permitted immigrants to stay in the U.S. for two-year periods if they could demonstrate “extreme medical need,” reports NPR affiliate WBUR.
“Many of the people affected by the policy change came to the U.S. through a visa or other permitted status and are requesting to stay beyond those terms to receive medical treatment,” WBUR reported Monday.
Dismayed immigrants living and receiving medical care in Massachusetts learned of the administration’s policy change when they received letters from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) earlier this month informing them that the agency will no longer consider most deferrals of deportation for people with serious medical conditions, documents show.
USCIS recently made changes stripping certain immigrants getting medical treatment of deferred action. Here’s what the notice going out to these immigrants says: pic.twitter.com/8auJSSL4dN
— Steph Solis (@stephmsolis) August 26, 2019
Immigrants facing deportation include children with “children with cancer, cystic fibrosis, HIV, and other illnesses,” reports CommonWealth Magazine.
Democratic Senator Ed Markey (Mass.) blasted the Trump administration’s “inhumanity” during a press conference on Monday, characterizing the policy change as an effort to “terrorize sick kids with cancer who are literally fighting for their lives.”
“This is a new low for Trump,” said Markey. “The administration is now literally deporting kids with cancer.”
A powerful call to action from @SenMarkey to ALL Americans to fight to save the critically ill patients whom this administration wants to deport to their deaths. Not now, not ever! pic.twitter.com/oAGKCvArli
— MIRA Coalition (@MIRACoalition) August 26, 2019
Ronnie Millar, executive director of the Irish International Immigrant Center, called the administration’s move “inhumane and unjust.”
“We will take this fight to the courts,” said Carol Rose, executive director of ACLU Massachusetts. “Lawyers are analyzing options right now.”
UPDATE: Following intense public backlash to the policy change, a USCIS spokesperson told The Hill in a statement Tuesday that the change took effect Aug. 7 but provides exemptions for military families.
The spokesperson added that the policy is not ending, but will instead be handled through Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
USCIS receives about 1,000 deferred action requests annually, mostly due to family or medical reasons. Most are not approved.
The Associated Press, which first reported the policy change, said it obtained USCIS letters sent to applicants in the Boston area and the correspondence reportedly made no mention of the ICE option. Instead, the letters ordered the immigrants to exit the U.S. in 33 days or face deportation, according to the AP.