Gravely Ill Patients Are No Longer Exempted From Deportation Proceedings in Trump’s America

Sanchez Family Cystic Fibrosis Fear of deportation
Mariela Sanchez, of Honduras, comforts her son, Jonathan, 16, during a news conference on Aug. 26, 2019, in Boston. The Sanchez family came to the United States seeking treatment for Jonathan's cystic fibrosis.Elise Amendola / AP

Up until this week, undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S. have been able to apply for medical deferred action on deportation proceedings through Citizenship and Immigration Services in order to receive the life-saving medical care that they or their family members need, if this necessary treatment is unavailable in their country of origin. But as of Thursday, a new order from the Trump administration threatens to put these patients of all ages at mortal risk, with few exceptions.

The order retroactively rescinds any of these medical exemptions, given on or before August 7th; families who have a current or pending exemption now have 33 days (from the date the letter was issued) to leave the country in order to avoid facing deportation proceedings. Failure to comply may also jeopardize their ability to apply for US visas in the future, making the circumstances all the more urgent and cruel. To clarify, this executive order tells families that they must pack up and leave with a month’s notice, despite having previously been granted a legal medical exemption by the US government — and even if a loved one is in the midst of life-saving treatment. 

Jonathon Sanchez Ill deportation BELatina medical deferred action
Jonathan Sanchez, 16, is in the U.S. getting treatment for cystic fibrosis. But this week, his family received a notice, giving them 33 days to leave the country or face deportation. CBS NEWS

This particular conversation around medical deferred action centers around the story of 16-year-old Jonathan Sanchez, a Honduran teen who suffers from life-threatening cystic fibrosis. He has been living with family In the Boston area since 2016 under a medical exemption that is being stripped from him and his family. 

Sanchez’s story made national news earlier this week after he spoke at a hearing discussing the abrupt changes to the program. “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],” said the teenager, whose sister had died of the same disease at a young age. It’s less common for young people to die of cystic fibroids today because of the advancements that we’ve made in medicine… but if Sanchez goes home to Honduras, he may not have access to these benefits.

According to the Associated Press, only about 1,000 families apply for this exemption each year — it is available to families suffering from financial hardship, as well — so it is unclear what impact the order intends to have on the administration’s immigration efforts, other than to create a society in which some of its most vulnerable members cannot access the resources they need in order to literally survive. ICE will take over the medical exemption program moving forward. 

The impact that this order has on the health of sick patients is more clear-cut. The AP cited at least 20 children in the Boston area who may be affected by the policy, including children with cancer, HIV, and muscular dystrophy. “This is a new low,” Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey told reporters in a press conference on Monday. “Donald Trump is literally deporting kids with cancer.”