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Mass. groups sue to stop policy change that would deport families of seriously ill children

Mariela Sanchez of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, wiped away tears during a press conference on termination of medical deferred action.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

Civil rights groups in Massachusetts on Thursday sued the Trump administration to stop a policy change that would deport families of seriously ill children receiving medical treatment in the United States.

The civil complaint was filed in US District Court in Boston by Lawyers for Civil Rights and the ACLU of Massachusetts on behalf of the Irish International Immigrant Center Inc., which helps families of immigrant children seeking medical care for severe illnesses.

The suit “challenges the Trump administration’s abrupt termination of a longstanding government program [known as deferred action] that protects seriously ill people from deportation and death,” the complaint said. “The administration’s action is unconscionable. It is also illegal.”


The plaintiffs want a judge to “declare the termination of USCIS’s deferred-action program unlawful and enjoin its enforcement,” according to the complaint. The filing names President Trump; Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services; Kevin K. McAleenan, the acting Homeland Security secretary, and other officials as defendants.

A US Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesperson declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. The White House had no immediate comment, and a Homeland Security spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The filing Thursday came after the policy change provoked fresh outrage last week, with health care providers fearing for their patients and elected officials demanding oversight.

It also came days after the Trump administration reversed course and announced a partial reprieve, saying it would consider some pending applications by severely ill immigrants hoping to remain in the country. In a statement Monday, USCIS said it was “non-military deferred action cases that were pending on August 7,” when the change took effect.

“By way of background, ‘deferred action’ is a discretionary decision to temporarily postpone the removal from the United States of a person who is illegally present,” the Monday statement said. “In the deferred action determinations at issue here, the Department of Homeland Security will make case-by-case, discretionary decisions based on the totality of the evidence and circumstances. Such cases will be decided based on the discretion of career USCIS employees, including but not limited to considerations similar to the Department of State’s consideration of B-2 visas when such visas are requested for medical purposes.”


Nationwide, about 1,000 people per year request deferred action for medical and other humanitarian reasons, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association. The policy, for decades, has allowed some immigrants to remain in the United States legally while they receive medical care for complex conditions, according to immigration advocates.

Lawyers for some of the immigrants said last week that USCIS had begun informing families that it no longer considers requests for deferred action, and that the families must leave the country within 33 days. The change would apply to children and adults with cancer, cystic fibrosis, HIV, epilepsy, and other conditions.

“The Trump administration is hellbent on causing as much suffering as possible for immigrant families,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, in a statement Thursday.

“This attack on children and their families is inhumane and unlawful. We will not stand for it.”

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey and Felicia Gans of the Globe staff and Globe Correspondent John Hilliard contributed to this report.