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U.S. Authorities Reconsider Some Requests To Stay From Immigrants Seeking Medical Aid


Immigration authorities are now reconsidering some requests from immigrants to stay in the U.S. for medical treatment. This is giving hope to those who were recently denied. But as WBUR's Shannon Dooling reports, other immigrants hoping to get lifesaving care here could still be facing deportation.

SHANNON DOOLING, BYLINE: On the 10th floor of a Boston hospital, a software engineer from Morocco describes his quest to get treatment for a rare vascular tumor. He says he consulted doctors in Belgium, Germany and South Korea, but they didn't want to risk the surgery.

MK: I do tests, and then they said, like, we're sorry. We can't do that surgery because we'll kill you. And then I've been looking in research papers, and then I found two doctors here in Boston.

DOOLING: The 33-year-old struggles to lift himself in bed. He asked to use his initials, M.K., because he's afraid speaking out will hurt his case. M.K. entered the country in 2017 on a tourist and medical visa. After extending his visa as many times as he could, he applied for what's known as medical deferred action, knowing it was likely his last option to be able to stay in the country legally. Last week, he read WBUR's report that U.S. Customs and Immigration Services was sending letters to patients, denying requests to stay in the U.S.

MK: I called a family member. I was like, check out the mail. And surprise, surprise, there's the letter.

DOOLING: The agency told him he had 33 days to leave the country. He says he got the news on the same day his doctor suggested yet another surgery. Earlier this week, Customs and Immigration Services ended the medical deferrals with no public announcement, just denial letters. In the future, officials say, any immigrants facing deportation can ask Immigration and Customs Enforcement for a delay. In a partial reversal, USCIS then said it would consider cases that were pending as of August 7. M.K. says he hopes the federal government does the right thing.

MK: It's impossible for me to go back. It will be like a death sentence.

DOOLING: Sixteen-year-old Jonathan Sanchez has cystic fibrosis. His family received the same denial letter sent to M.K. and others around the country.

JONATHAN SANCHEZ: Every night, I start woken up, like, at 2:55, 3 a.m., thinking, I will wake up tomorrow. I won't. I'll be alive. I'll be dead. What will happen to me?

DOOLING: Jonathan and his family came to the U.S. on tourist visas in 2016. They left their home country of Honduras, seeking treatment at Boston Children's Hospital. Their medical deferred action request, like M.K.'s, should now be reopened. Gary Sanchez, Jonathan's father, breaks down when he talks about his son's future, saying he wants to see him grow up.

GARY SANCHEZ: I have a dream that one day I can see to my son, like, a man with a wife, children.

DOOLING: He says his daughter died in Honduras of cystic fibrosis. He says doctors there had no idea how to treat her condition. On her death certificate, he says, the cause was left blank.

G SANCHEZ: I don't want that my son die because he is all my life.

DOOLING: There's no guarantee the Sanchez family and M.K. will be approved to stay. But for now, they have something to hope for.

For NPR News, I'm Shannon Dooling in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shannon Dooling