Federal immigration policy change jeopardizes lives of severely ill immigrants

USCIS has ended practice protecting immigrants receiving critical medical services from deportation.

University of California, San Francisco’s leadership is calling for the reversal of a federal immigration policy change after a patient receiving life saving treatment has been targeted for deportation.

This month the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services stopped granting deferred action requests that enabled immigrants or their relatives to avoid deportation as long as they are receiving life-saving treatment.

The decision has placed immigrants like 24-year-old Guatemalan Maria Isabel Bueso — who has received weekly treatment for a rare genetic disease at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland for the past 16 years — at risk, UCSF said in a statement issued Friday. UCSF is calling on the federal government to “take action to reverse the policy change before harm comes to any patients affected by this action.”

“This unilateral and unannounced policy by the Administration to shut down access to life-saving care for patients like Isabel, who are legally residing in our country, is contrary to the most fundamental notions of basic human rights,” said UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood. “UCSF’s mission is to provide care for all patients, regardless of race, religion or immigration status, and we will continue to do so.”

Last week, Bueso received a letter from USCIS ordering her to leave the country within 33 days. USCIS spokesperson told the San Francisco Examiner that the agency has “stopped granting non-military requests for deferred action in order to focus agency resources on administering the country’s lawful immigration system.”

The spokesperson added that the “procedural shift” does not affect DACA, or “other deferred-action requests covered under established policies, regulations or court orders,” such as requests related to the Violence Against Women Act and U-Visa waiting list.

“Non-military requests for deferred action related to medical issues or family support were not established as a prior USCIS program. Previously, the agency had authoritative discretion to afford individuals with non-military deferred action on a case-by-case basis,” the spokesperson said.

Bueso suffers from MPS-6, which “causes growth failure, cardiac valve disease, respiratory failure, blindness, spinal cord injury, among other abnormalities” and has participated in research studies since she was 7 years old, UCSF said in its statement.

Bueso could not immediately be reached for comment. UCSF’s leadership said that Bueso “cannot survive without the weekly enzyme infusion therapy she receives,” which is not authorized in her birth country.

“The change in policy requires Isabel and other patients dependent on life-saving medical care to leave the country within a month of receiving notice, without any opportunity to appeal the decision,” UCSF said in its statement. “In Isabel’s case, she is being asked to relocate to a country that does not have approval to administer the life-saving treatment she needs.”

Bueso has participated in clinical trials that helped “provide evidence of the therapy’s effectiveness” leading to the Food and Drug Administration approving the drug she now depends on to live, according to UCSF. Patients suffering from MPS-6 are generally given a maximum lifespan of 20 years — but through the work of Bueso and other patients in the study, MPS-6 patients are now seeing their lifespans increased to more than 30 years.

This story has been updated to include comment from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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