ICE Took Over a Program That Shields Sick Immigrants from Deportation. Here's How That's Going.

Families of kids receiving medical care in the U.S. got letters saying they have to leave within 33 days or face deportation and a temporary ban on returning
August 26, 2019, 7:30pm
The Trump administration is drastically scaling back a program that had shielded people getting medical care from deportation.

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.

ICE will now be able to decide whether undocumented immigrants getting treatment for serious medical conditions can stay in the country, WBUR and the Associated Press reported Monday.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency that handles matters like naturalization and adjustment of status, had previously handled cases through the "medical deferred action" program. But these requests — essentially a form of short-term deportation relief for people getting treated for conditions like cancer, cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy — are now being referred to ICE for “consideration,” a USCIS spokesperson told VICE News.

USCIS will continue to handle deferred action requests for military service members, as well as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the spokesperson said.

“USCIS field offices will no longer consider non-military requests for deferred action, to instead focus agency resources on faithfully administering our nation’s lawful immigration system,” a spokesperson told VICE News.

ICE took control over the program on August 7. And last week, immigrants who were in the program in the Boston area received letters notifying them they no longer qualified, according to both the AP and the WBUR reports. The immigrants who received these letters were largely parents of chronically ill children. Under the deferred action program, they were not only temporarily protected from deportation but also allowed to legally work in the country while their kids received medical treatment.

Anthony Marino, director of legal services for the Irish International Immigrant Center, told WBUR that at least five families who receive legal services from the center are affected by the change. Those families received letters from the government saying they have to leave within 33 days of the issue date or else face deportation and a temporary ban on returning to the U.S.

Massachusetts politicians slammed the recent change. “By no longer considering medical deferred action requests for immigrants, the Trump administration is now literally deporting kids with cancer,” Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey said on Facebook.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh called the decision “absurd and inhumane.”

Under acting director Ken Cuccinelli, USCIS has become increasingly politicized. Cuccinelli recently defended the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule, which intends to deny visas or green cards to immigrants who may rely on government assistance, by providing a reinterpretation of the famous poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.

“'Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,” he told NPR earlier this month.

Cuccinelli also regularly makes the rounds on cable news, where he has defended the Trump administration’s attempts to limit asylum-seekers and other immigrants from coming to the U.S. He recently admitted that the Department of Homeland Security’s changes to the Flores Settlement agreement, a 1997 court settlement defining the rights migrant children have in the U.S., are intended as a “deterrent.”

Cover: In this Aug. 12, 2019, file photo, Acting Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli, speaks during a briefing at the White House, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)