WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration announced Monday that it will reopen the process that helped some seriously ill migrants to defer deportation while receiving life-saving care in the U.S.
The announcement over the long holiday weekend came after the administration quietly halted the protections for sick migrants earlier this month, prompting backlash from immigrant advocates and members of Congress.
The "deferred action" program allows migrants in the country illegally to avoid deportation for compelling reasons, such as if they are in need of critical medical care.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service sent letters on Aug. 7 to every applicant petitioning for renewal in the program to tell them they had just weeks to leave the country or face deportation.
Families who thought they were safe suddenly faced the prospect of being forced to leave the country, which critics like Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey called "a de facto death sentence" for migrants receiving health care only available to them in the U.S.
"I don't know how they expect parents to pull their children from hospital beds, disconnect them from lifesaving treatments and go someplace where they are know they are going to die," Anthony Marino, director of Immigration Legal Services, said on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show." "But that is what they are telling them to do."
But on Monday, USCIS reversed course, saying it would reopen the deferred action process.
"While limiting USCIS' role in deferred action is appropriate, USCIS will complete the caseload that was pending on August 7," the Department of Homeland Security agency said. "As USCIS' deferred action caseload is reduced, the career employees who decide such cases will be more available to address other types of legal immigration applications on a more efficient basis."
The agency said in its announcement that no one who had been sent an earlier letter was targeted for deportation. However, the agency's defense of its position as "appropriate" left it unclear what the rules will be for people who hadn't submitted renewal applications before the Aug. 7 deadline.