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Herring seeks answers from Trump on immigrant healthcare program

mark herringAttorney General Mark R. Herring today has joined a coalition of 20 attorneys general in calling on the Trump Administration, Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Ken Cuccinelli and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to provide immediate answers regarding the status and oversight of the federal government’s medical deferred action program.

For years, medical deferred action has allowed immigrants to apply to remain in the United States if they are in extreme medical need. USCIS has long overseen and managed this program, but last week, without warning, USCIS informed applicants in denial letters that the agency is no longer overseeing the program. The Trump Administration has since failed to issue any formal directive or guidance on the new process for reviewing medical deferred action requests, including what federal agency is overseeing the program, and Herring and his colleagues are demanding answers.

“Once again, the Trump Administration and Ken Cuccinelli have sent the hateful message to immigrants that they are not welcome in this country, even for something critical like medical care,” said Herring. “It is inexcusable that the Trump Administration would deny immigrant families medical help and suspend this lifesaving program without so much as an explanation, which is why my colleagues and I are demanding answers.”

The medical deferred action program was created to allow immigrants to apply for an extended stay in the United States in the event of extreme medical need. USCIS has routinely considered and granted requests by foreign nationals for deferred action for decades, including for patients who are receiving lifesaving care in the U.S. and for the parents of such patients. These grants of deferred action have prevented the deportation of gravely ill children and adults to countries where their lives would be in danger due to lack of quality medical care. Deferred action has also given patients access to health insurance and allowed parents of sick children to receive work authorizations that they need to pay their children’s medical bills and support their families.

USCIS recently informed several foreign nationals who made initial requests for medical deferred action or requests for renewal of such deferred action that they “no longer consider deferred action requests except . . . for certain military members, enlistees, and their families”. The denial letters also informed applicants that they were required to leave the country 33 days from the date of the denial or risk deportation. After public outrage over the apparent suspension of all medical deferred action, USCIS announced on September 2, 2019 that it would continue to process medical deferred action requests—but only for individuals who had a request pending as of August 7, 2019.

USCIS has provided no official explanation of its decision to suspend consideration of medical deferred action requests moving forward. Moreover, while some reports have indicated that ICE will review requests for deferred action related to medical conditions, ICE has provided no indication—much less detailed information—of plans to consider such requests or of how individuals who have been denied deferred action by USCIS can request such relief from ICE. As a result, sick patients and their families are left afraid, traumatized, and uncertain of their future health and wellbeing.

In the letter, the attorneys general are requesting answers to the following questions:

  • Whether or not USCIS has terminated all consideration of deferred action for non-military-affiliated individuals submitted after August 7, 2019;
  • How foreign nationals currently located in the coalition states who are suffering from severe medical conditions can request deferred action moving forward;
  • Whether and how any criteria and processes related to deferred actions for serious medical conditions have or will change under new policies or procedures; and
  • If new policies or procedures will change deferred action for serious medical conditions, how the criteria or processes may change.

Joining Herring are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.