After a botched rollout of inhumane immigration and medical policy, the United States Department of Citizenship and Immigration Services is no longer requiring some undocumented recipients of medical deferred action to leave the country within 33 days. The news is a huge sigh of relief for many patients who, with very little notice from the federal government, were expecting to have to abruptly forgo life-saving treatments in order to avoid deportation.
The concession is only partial, so it’s hard to consider this “great” news. The program is closed from here on out to new applicants and those whose applications were not pending before August 7th, and officials have not commented on what will happen to current patients the next time their status is up for renewal. “Whether a very limited version of deferred action will continue forward at USCIS is still under review, an anonymous official told the New York Times. The official simply referred to the latest announcement as “corrective action” for cases that had been pending.
In a statement, the agency contended that the change would make the legal immigration process more efficient: “As USCIS’ deferred action caseload is reduced, the career employees who decide such cases will be more available to address other types of legal immigration applications on a more efficient basis.” As if undocumented immigrants requiring life-saving care are responsible for gumming up the immigration system.
Isabel Bueso, whose life-saving treatments were the subject of a piece in last week’s Times, was relieved to learn of the administration’s partial reversal, but demanded more. “We have to find a permanent solution so that families like mine don’t have to go through this again.” Bueso, at age 24, has been a vocal advocate for others with rare illnesses. After her story made its way to a national audience, Congress invited her to testify this week about the policy.
The reversal, while incomplete, demonstrates the power that public opinion and the responsiveness of elected officials can have on public policy. On Friday, over 100 lawmakers penned a letter to immigration officials that requested the decision be reversed. Addressed to Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan, Acting USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli, and Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence — note that each of these officials is filling an important and consequential post as a temporary employee — the letter takes issue with the administration’s decision to delegate the medical deferment process to ICE.
After all, ICE has put out statements indicating that they won’t be considering any deferred action requests unless a patient has been through deportation proceedings. “Requiring that prospective applicants request this humanitarian relief by applying to an immigration enforcement agency that detains and deports hundreds of thousands of immigrants annually, will deter many vulnerable children and families from coming forward and seeking life-saving protection,” the letter reads. The letter also presented the officials with a list of questions to clarify why such an order had been passed in the first place and how they had planned on enacting it, demanding answers by September 13th.