Can you be deported if you have a chronic illness? Some say ICE is sending people “to their death”
Tracking down undocumented immigrants and vowing to deport every single one of them might sound like a simple, if brutal, immigration policy, but when you factor in the human costs of first detaining people and then sending them to another country, things get a lot more complicated. And the logistics aren’t the only flaw in Trump’s ill-informed, xenophobic immigration plans. Not only does Immigration and Custom Enforcement break up families and uproot the lives of people who have often been in the U.S. for decades, they also risk the health of a lot of people with chronic illnesses. A new case in Miami poses some interesting questions about whether or not you should be deported if you have a chronic illness.
Ricardo Querales is a 43-year-old immigrant who has been living in Miami for 15 years, where he works as a hairdresser. He fled Huge Chavez’ Venezuela in 2003 and was granted asylum by the United States. Three years later, while living here, he was diagnosed with HIV. Here in the U.S. (and other places where antiretrovirals (ARVS) are readily available) HIV is no longer the “death sentence” it once was. Instead, HIV positive people take a pill or two every day to suppress the amount of the virus in their blood, which means that they never get AIDS, live long, healthy lives, and in the best cases, cannot transmit the virus.
But in Venezuela—and so many other countries—those medications aren’t available.
So if Querales is deported, it means he potentially will not be able to access medication and become sick. He told ICE, according to ABC News, that they were sending him to his death, and he’s not wrong. Life expectancy for HIV positive people without ARVS is not long at all.
Just because Chavez is dead doesn’t mean that things in Venezuela became less dangerous. In case you’re not familiar, there’s a huge opposition to the Nicolas Maduro government, which led to massive protests in 2014 and then a violent crackdown to stop them. Aside from other human rights violations, food and medical services are hard to come by. Most importantly for Querales’ case, two international HIV/AIDS organizations put out a call for people to help positive Venezuelans get treatment, calling their situation “grave.”
GNP+ wrote in a release last year that patients faced:
"... a dangerous system of contaminated surgery rooms, ill-equipped laboratories, water and electricity disruptions, long lines at supermarkets and widespread food insecurity. With a limited number of health professionals remaining in the country and frequent treatment interruptions, more and more people living with HIV are suffering and dying from easily preventable opportunistic infections. It is predicted that within a few weeks the country will face a near universal ARVs [antiretroviral] stock out with no end in sight."
Querales was arrested for drug use twice in past years, which may complicate his case. Both of those arrests came after his diagnosis, which makes total sense: Depression and substance abuse issues are more prevalent among HIV positive people after they receive a diagnosis. Instead of deporting him back then, he just had to check in with ICE at periodic intervals under an “Order of Supervision.” But this time, when he went to check in, ICE put an ankle monitor on him and told him to self-deport himself or face detention and eventual deportation.
Despite those drug charges, Querales might have a case, since a fact sheet issued by the Department of Justice in December 2017 said that deportation cases are decided on a case-by-case basis, and that the agencies consider, “a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
Laura Lynch, a senior policy associate at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told ABC that Querales wouldn’t have faced deportation under previous administrations.”
"Under the Trump administration, they say it's a case-by-case scenario, so the ICE agents or ICE officers determine whether or not Ricardo can stay in the U.S. What we're seeing here at AILA is the Trump administration is deporting vulnerable individuals like Ricardo that were not a priority under the Obama administration. The administration is moving forward with deporting low-hanging fruit such as individuals they can easily identify."
Venezuela is not just dangerous for HIV positive people—its entire medical system is on the brink of collapse, according NBC. Eduardo Franco, a spokesperson for MAVID, an HIV/AIDS foundation in Carabobo said in April, “Over the past week in Carabobo there’s no medicines arriving at all. If you have cancer or are recovering from an operation or have an infection you can’t get any antibiotics. There’s empty shelves in every clinic and pharmacy.”
There are other stories of undocumented immigrants battling conditions such as cancer in ICE deportation centers. Last year, the Human Rights Watch called the medical services in ICE detention, “substandard and dangerous.” An ICE spokesperson Gillian Christensen said in response to the report that, “ICE takes the health and well-being of the individuals in our custody extremely seriously and we provide extensive medical, dental and mental health care to ensure their health and safety to the best of our ability.”
And yet, deaths in the centers have spiked, along with terrifying reports of cancer patients getting ibuprofen and people with brain tumors waiting for long periods of time before getting treatment, putting their health at risk. So whether the administration is sending people back to countries with no medical resources or detaining them for indefinite amounts of time while they’re sick, Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants is gambling with peoples’ lives. There has to be a better way.