Medical Deferred Action Cases Re-opened by USCIS
A few weeks ago, people who have been in the country for decades started receiving letters telling them they had 33 days to leave the country or they would be put in removal proceedings. Today, September 2, 2019, USCIS announced that it was re-opening pending non-military deferred action cases.
So, what’s going on with these sudden changes?
The previous change on August 7 by USCIS ending medical deferred action was made without a public announcement or the chance for public comments. Today’s change comes amidst the confrontation of USCIS by 110 members of Congress, and a wide array of public outcry.
For decades now, medical deferred action has taken place, and applicants’ decisions have been made by USCIS. Medical deferred action is a program that allows people to stay in the United States for increments of two-year periods if they can prove extreme medical need. Those two-year increments are renewable, and many recipients of the program have been living in the U.S. for multiple years, even decades, under medical deferred action.
The sudden change on August 7 by USCIS did not necessarily get rid of medical deferred action, but USCIS handed its decision-making power regarding the program to ICE (Immigration and Custom Enforcement). USCIS stated that “medical deferred action requests are now submitted to ICE for consideration.” However, ICE spokesperson Shawn Neudauer stated that “ICE does not exercise discretion on a categorical basis to exempt entire groups of aliens from the immigration laws enacted by Congress.” This statement more closely aligned with the letters that medical deferred action recipients received, which did not offer an alternate pathway for recipients to stay in the country.
(To be clear, that policy change did not (nor does not affect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), or other deferred action requests that USCIS processes.)
In the days following the elimination of medical deferred action, more than 100 lawmakers denounced the decision, penning a letter to the Department of Homeland Security urging it to reverse the decision. Advocates said that many of the recipients of medical deferred action rely on their presence in the United States to provide them with life-saving treatments, and that many recipients will die, or severely shorten their life expectancies, if they are forced to leave the United States. The 110 members of Congress who signed the letter asked that the Department of Homeland Security, USCIS, and ICE answer the fourteen questions posed in the letter by September 13, 2019.
It appears that the Congressional letter got the attention of USCIS, as its announcement today stated that USCIS will complete the caseload that was pending on August 7. It also announced that letters will be sent out this week re-opening the cases, meaning that people affected by medical deferred action will not be deported.
While this is a welcome surprise for the all those involved, it appears that USCIS will likely not be accepting new applications for medical deferred action, meaning that new cases will be examined by ICE. This is concerning because if ICE becomes solely responsible for medical deferred action it will likely only grant it in limited cases where an individual is being threatened with deportation.