Undocumented immigrants with serious medical conditions who were receiving treatment in the U.S. now have to about a month to leave the country, as the Trump administration is drastically scaling back a program that had shielded these people from deportation.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency that handles matters like naturalization and adjustment of status, has drastically cut its medical "deferred action" program, WBUR and the Associated Press reported Monday.
The program, now limited to relatives of U.S. military service members, was essentially a form of short-term deportation relief for people with certain medical conditions including cancer, cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy.
It also provided relief for immigrant parents whose children suffered from these conditions, allowing them to legally work in the country while their kids received medical treatment.
USCIS sent Boston-based immigrants letters notifying them of the program’s end last week, according to both reports. 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.
“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.
The agency did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment regarding when the decision to end the medical deferral program was made or how many people will be affected.
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)
This article originally appeared on VICE US.