Two immigrants who say they rely on medical care in the United States to survive made emotional pleas to lawmakers on Wednesday, opposing a Trump administration policy that could result in them and others being deported.
Maria Isabel Bueso, who suffers from a rare genetic disease, told the House Oversight Committee that doctors have told her she wouldn’t live past her teenage years.
"I want to live. I am a human being with hopes and dreams in my life," she said in her opening statement. "I am asking Congress and the administration to come together and right the wrong of this change in policy. This is not a partisan issue. This is a humanitarian issue and our lives depend on it."
She said due to inadequate medical care in her home country of Guatemala, getting care in the United States is crucial. She was invited to participate in a clinical trial with a V2 visa at the University of California at San Francisco Benioff Children's Hospital and that treatments developed there to deal with her rare disease have kept her and others alive.
Bueso, 24, and her family have lived in the United States for 16 years under a government program that defers action on deportations in order to seek medical treatment.
She and 16-year-old Johnathan Sanchez, who has cystic fibrosis, both applied for an extension of protections under the deferred action program.
But then the Trump administration, in a statement from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, announced an abrupt end to the program, denying all noncitizens seeking medical treatment in the U.S.
Bueso and Sanchez both received letters from USCIS stating their applications had been denied and they had 33 days to leave the country
But after the issue gained national attention -- Bueso's story was featured in the New York Times -- their applications to stay in the U.S. for medical treatment were reopened and the Trump administration announced that patients with pending deferred action applications would not immediately face the risk of deportation.
However, USCIS has announced they will no longer accept deferred action applications for noncitizens seeking medical treatment -- except for members of the military.
It's unclear if applicants who have been approved to stay in the U.S. temporarily will be able to reapply for the program. A USCIS official at Wednesday's hearing cited a pending legal challenge from immigrant advocates, saying it prevents the agency from discussing the impact of the policy change going forward.
Democrats at the hearing slammed the Trump administration's decision to end the program, with Chairman Jamie Raskin, D-Md., saying, "The administration decided to cast out some of the most vulnerable and defenseless people on earth and there are families across America whose children would essentially be sentenced to death eventually by this stunningly harsh and cruel policy."
Sanchez and his family came to the U.S. from Honduras to seek treatment for his cystic fibrosis.
"The problem is that in my country there is no treatment for cystic fibrosis ... and the only way that I can still be alive is by staying in the United States, because in my country there is no treatment," he said in a news conference with Democrats before the hearing.
"I would like to end this conversation with the cystic fibrosis mantra: 'You breathe without thinking and the only thing I think about is breathing,'" Sanchez said.
Medical organizations, including the American Lung Association and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, denounced the Trump administration policy change in a joint statement Wednesday.
"This critical program ensures that people who have no other avenue to life-saving medical care can temporarily remain in the United States to receive it," the statement read. "The changes to this program, chaotic manner in which they unfolded, and lingering uncertainty are likely to deter individuals and families in dire need from seeking care, which could have life and death consequences."