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Amid pushback, Trump administration partially reverses rule that would have abruptly ended protections for sick immigrants

2019-09-02

An immigration official stamps U.S. citizenship applications for children at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services district office in New York City. (John Moore/Getty Images)

The Trump administration on Monday partially backed off a controversial policy that would have abruptly ended protections for immigrants facing life-threatening diseases or other medical crises.

In a statement, President Trump’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency said it would reverse a decision last month to completely end a “deferred action” subprogram that permits immigrants to stay in the country while they or their family members undergo lifesaving medical treatment.

The USCIS said it will immediately reopen all cases that were pending when the policy took effect on Aug. 7.

However, the agency didn’t say whether it will simply finish up the existing caseload and then end the program, or whether consideration will be given to future applicants as well.

A USCIS spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment.

Monday’s backtracking came after federal lawmakers and immigration advocates ripped the administration’s proposal as inhumane and heartless.

More than 100 Democratic members of the Senate and the House fired off a letter to Trump’s acting USCIS Director, Ken Cuccinelli, last week, blasting him for trying to quietly roll out the policy without notifying Congress.

“This decision will have lasting and serious implications for affected families and in many cases will result in individuals being forced to return to countries where the absence of necessary medical care threatens their survival,” the Democrats wrote. “On its face, this change represents another cruel action by the Trump administration to attack our most vulnerable immigrant neighbors.”

The policy change only became publicly known after immigrants protected by the program told media outlets they had received letters informing them they had to leave the country within 33 days or face deportation.

The since-reversed “deferred action” rollback comes as the Trump administration is ramping up attempts to curtail legal as well as illegal immigration.

In addition to continued demands for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, the administration is seeking to end or limit various legal protections, including making it nearly impossible for immigrants to obtain green cards if they’ve ever relied on welfare.

Many of the administration’s attempts at overhauling U.S. immigration laws have prompted lawsuits. New York Attorney General Letitia James is one of the most active litigants challenging the hardline agenda.