'People Are Going to Die': Trump Admin Ends Protections for Very Sick Migrants

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) ended protections for migrants and their relatives who are in the country to undergo life saving treatments earlier this month on August 7. No formal announcement was made, and other immigration agencies claim they weren't given advanced notice. All pending and future requests as well as program renewals have effectively ended.

Before the rule change, those who were undergoing crucial life-saving medical treatments, and their caregivers, in the U.S. could qualify for a "deferred action" plan that delayed deportation until they were well or had been fully treated. There are about 1,000 medical-related deferred action applications each year. Last week, some of those who had been accepted into the program began to receive letters telling them they'd be forcefully deported from the country if they did not leave voluntarily within 33 days.

Presidential candidate and former El Paso Congressman Beto O'Rourke meanwhile, took to Twitter to admonish the quiet rule change. "People are going to die," he wrote.

A spokesperson for USCIS told The New York Times that requests for deferred action must now be made through Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency responsible for deportation. But an ICE spokesperson told the Times that they were given no advance notice of this change and weren't sure if they could take it on.

In a statement, ICE wrote that, "As with any request for deferred action, ICE reviews each case on its own merits and exercises appropriate discretion after reviewing all the facts involved."

"This attack on children and their families is inhumane and unjust," said Ronnie Millar, executive director of the Irish International Immigrant Center, in a press release. "These families are all here receiving treatment that is unavailable in their home countries, and our government has issued them a death sentence." Amongst the center's clients are migrant families of children with cancer, cystic fibrosis, HIV, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy.

Mother cares for son
A Honduran mother cares for her sick son, both part of a new 'migrant caravan', at a shelter for migrants on January 16, 2019 in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Mario Tama/Getty

Boston Medical Center, a research hospital, said in a statement that it was "deeply concerned" for those in the country to treat "extremely serious medical conditions." The hospital spokesperson said that, "We oppose any actions that could prevent people from accessing the health care they need."

Migrants who come to the U.S. with rare or hard-to-cure diseases and participate in medical trials are also essential to creating new cures and treatments that others benefit from, the hospital pointed out.

The USCIS letter sent to migrants read that the agency would "no longer consider deferred action requests, except those made according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policies for certain military members, enlistees, and their families," indicating that the program as a whole was ending.

John Delaney, another 2020 candidate also commented on the decision. "Another cruel Trump policy - rolling back the ability for children to receive the medical care they need," he wrote.