Sunday, September 1, 2019

Say "No" to a Lower Low: Ending Medical Deferrals

News outlets report that more than 100 (127 to be exact) lawmakers have signed a letter protesting the Trump Administration's decision to end the nation's longstanding program of providing medical deferred action while immigrants obtain life-saving medical assistance in the U.S.   The stories of the individuals affected by this abrupt decision are compelling, and the numbers are involved are small, but for those few human beings, access to medical help is critical.  Here is just one example from Boston: sixteen year old Jonathan Sanchez of Honduras, who is treated at Boston Children's Hospital for his cystic fibrosis. He needs the help of a vibrating vest, nebulizer and special medication to stay alive; he will have no treatment options if he is deported to Honduras.

Surely, extending our medical know-how and life-saving treatment to those in need has been a sign of our nation's greatness.  In denying this relief, our nation becomes smaller, more miserly, not just irrelevant but malicious. 

This is a law professors' blog, and it's our job to cite human rights and humanitarian law to support our positions, but in this case, law is almost beside the point.  The sharing of resources to provide life-saving treatment to those in need is a moral issue that should unite people of good will (including, surely, those of faith) across party lines.  Yet the letter drafted by concerned lawmakers garnered only signatures from Democrats, and not all Democrats at that.  

Where are the other 408 members of Congress, who have not signed on to efforts to overturn this cruel policy change?  Perhaps some, like Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), sent their own individual letters to the Administration.  One would hope that elected representatives would feel compelled to speak out to oppose this new attack on vulnerable human beings.

While immigrants may still be able to make a plea to stay by submitting appeals to ICE, it appears that there will no longer be any specific process for seeking medical deferrals.  This uncertainty compounds the stress facing human beings with extremely serious health needs.  In too many cases, they will be too fearful to even seek deferral from ICE, an agency that is known for turning away from humanitarian health needs.

There will be opportunities to speak out on this issue.  One coming up:  On Friday, September 6, 2019, at 1 pm ET the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform, Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties will hold a hearing on medical deferred action titled: “The Administration’s Apparent Revocation of Medical Deferred Action for Critically Ill Children.” The hearing will take place in the Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2154.

When this latest action was announced, Harvard Law Prof Lawrence Tribe tweeted:  "I’ll be stunned if the public outrage doesn’t turn this one around."  Proving him right will take some work, but it will also save lives.

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