The Trump administration, facing criticism over deportations from lawmakers and civil rights groups, said on Monday it would reopen consideration of some deferral requests for compelling circumstances such as medical conditions.
In August, the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) said it was “no longer entertaining” such requests from people outside the U.S. military, but on Monday said it would reopen and complete cases that were pending on Aug. 7, the day the new policy took effect.
The agency said it still believed it was appropriate to hand over responsibility for such work to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), enabling its own staff to focus more efficiently on other legal immigration applications.
Nearly 130 Democratic U.S. senators and members of Congress last week sent a letter Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and Ken Cuccinelli, director of USCIS, protesting what they called a “cruel” and “inhumane” move.
“Individuals requesting deferred action from USCIS are among the most vulnerable. Children and families submit such requests due to severe medical conditions like cancer, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and cystic fibrosis,” the lawmakers wrote. “In many cases, the treatments are life-saving.”
They said letters sent out by USCIS in early August summarily denying the requests gave people 33 days to leave the country, and said they face forcible removal and denial of future visas if they did not comply.
The decision caused fear and confusion, the lawmakers said, warning it could force people to return to countries where lack of necessary medical care threatened their lives. They asked DHS, USCIS and ICE to answer a list of 14 detailed questions about the policy shift.
The agency sent out letters in early August informing those who had requested deferred action about the new policy, but providing few details on how to submit requests with ICE.
Deferred action is a discretionary determination to temporarily postpone the removal from the United States of a person who is illegally present, and occurs on a case-by-case basis, factoring in medical conditions and other circumstances.
USCIS said those denied requests that were pending on Aug. 7 did not have removal orders pending, and had not been targeted for deportation.