Protecting immigrant children: the last acts of a hero and civil rights icon


October 23, 2019

Photo credit: WBAL TV Channel 11

Hours before he died last week, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) performed what might have been his final official act while in office. According to CNN, aides to Cummings drove from the U.S. Capitol to Baltimore so that he could sign two subpoenas related to an investigation into the Trump Administration’s policy on whether seriously ill immigrants, including immigrant children, may remain in the U.S. for medical treatment.

“Chairman Cummings felt so strongly about the children, that he was going to fight until the end,” an aide explained.

The subpoenas, signed by Cummings as part of his role as Chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, were issued to Ken Cuccinelli, Acting Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and, and Matthew Albence, Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The two officials have agreed to testify voluntarily before House Oversight and Reform this Thursday, Oct. 24, but still have not provided documents demanded by Cummings to be submitted by noon this past Monday, Oct. 21.

Back in August, immigrant families with very sick children began receiving letters from the federal government informing them that their application to stay in the U.S. under medical deferred action had been denied, and they had 33 days to leave the country, meaning their children would have to forgo additional medical treatment. The children suffered from cancer, muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, heart disease, HIV, and other life-threatening ailments.

After news of the letters broke, the Trump Administration backtracked, saying the families would be allowed to remain in the U.S. However, the Administration has been unable to state what will happen with future applications for medical deferred status, and has broadly hinted that few applications will be approved.

At a hearing last month, two Department of Homeland Security Officials, Timothy S. Robbins, Acting Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations, and Daniel Renaud, Associate Director, Field Operations Directorate, would not answer the following questions:

Who came up with the policy?

What was the reason for the policy?

Did it come from the White House?

What section of DHS issued the directive?

Is there even an official policy in writing somewhere?

Did anyone think to calculate the potential loss of life?

The testimony, such as it was, came before the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, chaired by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD). In announcing last week that Cuccinelli and Albence would testify this Thursday, Raskin lashed out at the Administration’s attempts to stonewall.

“This debacle is another installment in the Trump Administration’s long-running mistreatment of immigrants and abuse of our laws,” Raskin said in a news release issued by House Oversight and Reform. “Despite the proclaimed reversal of this cruel policy, the process remains clouded in secrecy, and affected families still do not know if their requests will be adjudicated fairly. We have a duty to find out who was responsible for this decision and how requests will be handled for these children and their families going forward.”

Perhaps – in honor of Rep. Cummings and in support of the immigrants receiving desperately needed medical care in the U.S. now and in the future – some answers finally will be forthcoming.

A memorial for the late House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman – Rep. Elijah Cummings. Photo credit: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call