The ACLU of Massachusetts, together with the lawfirm Goodwin Procter and Lawyers for Civil Rights, filed a lawsuit in September 2019 challenging the Trump administration’s abrupt termination of a program that protects seriously ill people from deportation and death.

The plaintiff, Rian Immigrant Center (formerly the Irish International Immigrant Center) is a nonprofit that provides legal and other services to noncitizens. When U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) terminated its medical deferred action program in August 2019, the Rian Immigrant Center was representing 19 individuals and families in Massachusetts who had deferred action or were applying for it based on a serious medical need. Deferred action provides some protection from deportation and allows people to apply for work authorization while they or their loved ones receive lifesaving treatment. The Rian Immigrant Center’s deferred action clients include children seeking treatment for illnesses such as cancer, cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophy — and the parents who care for them.

For decades, USCIS granted deferred action to immigrants with serious medical needs, but in August 2019 the agency suddenly ended this program. In letters to Rian Immigrant Center clients and others around the country, USCIS declared that its offices “no longer consider deferred action requests” other than those associated with certain policies for military families. Then, on September 2, 2019, USCIS promised to consider deferred action requests — but only those submitted before August 7. USCIS gave no explanation for these decisions.

The termination of USCIS’s deferred action program has been devastating to Rian Immigrant Center's clients, who face impossible choices about whether and how they will continue life-saving treatment for their loved ones. What’s more, as argued in the Complaint, the decision appeared motivated by racism. News of the termination of deferred action for Rian Immigrant Center's seriously ill clients followed a string of Trump Administration policies targeted at keeping out non-white immigrants, and came on the heels of comments by USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli applying the words on the Statue of Liberty to immigrants “from Europe.” Nearly all of Rian Immigrant Center's clients are people of color from countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Africa.

Because the termination of USCIS’s deferred action program is arbitrary, capricious, and based on racial and other animus, it violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the Equal Protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution. The ACLU is asking a federal court to declare the termination unlawful and to ensure the continuation of this life-saving program.

UPDATE: After this lawsuit was filed, the government announced that USCIS had reinstated the deferred action process that existed prior to August 2019. After a brief stay of the litigation, the government moved to dismiss the case on grounds of mootness, and on other grounds; the district court denied the government’s motion to dismiss on mootness grounds. Later, in June 2021, the ACLU and other groups voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit.