Days before he was scheduled to board a flight from New York to Honduras, Nelson Rosales Santos was told he could stay in the U.S. for another six months as he awaits a kidney transplant and a green card. But that might not be enough time for him to undergo the operation that would save his life, according to his lawyer.
Rosales Santos told ABC News how he felt when he heard about the six-month stay.
"I felt very happy when I heard the news and I hope that something better comes from this in order to stay in the country," he said in Spanish.
Rosales Santos said he was scheduled to board a flight on Monday at 10 a.m. to be deported back to Honduras and await a decision on his petition for a green card through his wife, who is a U.S. citizen. The 49-year-old has Type 2 diabetes and is in kidney failure, relying on dialysis three or four times a week as he awaits a kidney transplant from a friend. But Rosales Santos, who has no criminal record and lives in Stamford, Connecticut, said he simply might not survive if he were forced to leave the United States.
"It would be a death sentence," Rosales Santos said. "I think if I go there, I am going to die."
Rosales Santos said his transplant operation had not been scheduled yet, but that he was told at a May 31 doctor's appointment that he was a good candidate for one. With his friend as a donor and his wife's private health insurance, he said he hoped to have the operation this summer. He was concerned that he would not be able to move forward if he were to be deported to Honduras.
'6 months is a short reprieve'
But on Thursday afternoon, he was granted a six-month extension to stay in the U.S., Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., confirmed in a statement.
"Reason has prevailed temporarily -- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has granted a six-month stay in the deportation of Nelson Rosales Santos,” Blumenthal said in the statement. "This deportation would have been a death sentence -- a cruel and callous act that history would have judged in the harshest of lights. But six months is a short reprieve, and we must redouble our efforts to achieve permanent relief for this Connecticut family."
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy agreed, saying that the fight is far from over for Rosales Santos and his family.
"While this is welcome news, a six-month stay is not enough, especially considering that the hospital cannot perform the kidney transplant necessary to keep Mr. Santos alive without at least a year of post-op recovery time," Malloy said in a statement. "On a broader level, it shouldn’t take the intervention of a governor or a U.S. senator for this administration to find its humanity. We will continue to fight for Nelson Santos and other law-abiding residents unfairly targeted by President Trump’s family-dividing policies."
Politicians, including Malloy, and advocates held a rally with Rosales Santos and his family outside a federal building in Hartford Thursday afternoon to announce the six-month stay.
While the stay is a relief, it's not a permanent solution, Catalina Horak, the executive director of Building One Community, a nonprofit that serves immigrants, told ABC News. Horak has been advocating on Rosales Santos' behalf.
"It's a huge relief to know that we don't have to worry about Monday or what would happen on Monday if he had boarded that plane," Horak told ABC News. "At the same time, in order to actually have the transplant, he needs 12 months."
Horak said following the transplant, his doctor said he will need monitoring and time to recover beyond six months.
"So unless ICE gives him the 12 months, all we are doing is kicking the can down the road, because the only permanent solution to his health problems is the transplant," Horak added.
No 'line in the sand'
Dr. Alden Doyle is a transplant nephrologist and the medical director of the Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Program at the University of Virginia. He said that the three to 12 months after a transplant are considered the early medical phase when patients are at increased risk of infection.
"There is not a line in the sand where you are okay after a transplant," Doyle told ABC News. "The minimum time required to ensure patient safety depends on the circumstances into which they are discharged. Going to a country that has minimal transplant resources would make a year seem like a minimum time period of follow-up at the transplant center to ensure reasonable safety. Observation and monitoring are certainly required for the life of the kidney transplant and without monitoring patients almost certainly run into serious risks."
Blood flow problems, infection, rejection of the transplanted organ and medication toxicity issues are among the problems he could face, Doyle said.
Doyle added that Honduras' has a "skeletal medical system" and that if a patient were to be in a place where there isn't adequate monitoring for post-transplant complications, he or she could die.
Racing against time
Horak said that because Rosales Santos entered the country without a visa before he married his wife, who is a citizen, he would need to leave the country to adjust his status and get his green card, something he could only do after his transplant.
His attorney, Glenn Formica, said they are still trying to determine if six months is enough time for the transplant.
"I feel really relieved and appreciative, of course, but, to be honest, I'm trying to figure out if six months is going to work with his transplant or whether he needs a year," Formica told ABC News. "If the kidney transplant requires 12 months, then he needs 12 months to live."
Horak said the deportation order stems from his failure to appear in an immigration court more than three decades ago.
"Automatically, he was placed in deportation proceedings," Horak told ABC News. "There is absolutely no way that he can travel, get to Honduras and have dialysis. For a person who has lived here for 30 years, who [has] no health history in that country whatsoever, no medical insurance there, he is just simply not going to be able to do it."
The family was racing against time to keep him in the country, she said. Rosales Santos has three children who are U.S. citizens: Christian, 19, Samantha, 14, and Sebastian, 11.
"It's been very hard for my wife and my children," he said. "My daughter, Samantha, made a card to give the lawyer to see if he could give it to Immigration, to see if it would help. She is sad because soon it's her graduation and she wants me to be there. And if I go, I won't be."
Formica said that he began working on Rosales Santos' case pro-bono this week, submitting an emergency motion for stay with the Board of Immigration Appeals on Tuesday.
"I don't want to be dramatic about it, but I'm taking the case because if I don't, he could die," Formica said. "There's a real irony in this case. Just a little bit of discretion, just a little bit of humanity, and he lives, he gets a kidney transplant from a private donor paid for by the private health insurance he has through his wife. His kids keep a father. Or, he gets put onto an airplane and goes back to Honduras and presumably doesn't survive. His kids are without a father, and it's a tragedy. The whole thing is kind of absurd."
'One of those cases you can't walk away from'
ICE confirmed the stay of removal in a statement, saying it is among the "discretionary actions" the agency can take.
"After a reviewing the facts in the case of Nelson Omar Rosales-Santos, 49, a citizen and national of Honduras, in conjunction with his request for a stay of removal, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Enforcement and Removal Operations granted his request for a period of six months. A stay of removal is among the discretionary actions that a Field Office Director for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations may exercise on a case by case basis," ICE said in the statement.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said it does not comment about individual cases.
Formica said he's determined to help Rosales Santos and his family however he can.
"They call it the practice of law for a reason, you're always practicing. The problem is, with cases like this, you don't want to be practicing. You want to get it right, and that's what we're trying to do," Formica said. "As an attorney, you just don't want to fail. There is too much at stake here."
"It's one of those cases," he added, "you can't walk away from."
ABC News' Dr. Mark Abdelmalek contributed to this report.