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Meeting the challenge: Fighting for the family

Monday, January 18, 2021

Immigration Clinic helps boy with cancer reunite with his parents

By Christina Schweighofer

Alfredo and his parents, who were able to join him as he battled  cancer thanks to the efforts of Gould’s Immigration Clinic.

A 15-year-old boy hospitalized at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles with an advanced brain tumor was reunited with his parents in July, thanks to the persistence of the USC Gould Immigration Clinic and alum Carson Scott (JD 2020).

Alfredo, a U.S. citizen, was first diagnosed with cancer in 2018. When the disease returned this year and he ran out of medical options in his home state of Hidalgo, Mexico, his parents sent him to stay with family in California for further treatment at CHLA while they, reluctantly, stayed behind. Alfredo’s parents were not eligible for a visa, and a previous, decade-old deportation order against the father further complicated things.

The clinic, which partners with CHLA to serve seriously ill immigrant children and their families, advocated for humanitarian parole for Alfredo’s parents, with Scott’s assistance. She prepared applications to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and obtained the necessary signatures from Alfredo’s family. She immediately saw the impact of the DHS decision on Alfredo.

“His strength increased, and he talked about finding gifts for his parents to welcome them,” she said.

Because of the pandemic-related lockdown, Scott communicated with Alfredo and his parents mostly via WhatsApp. Scott is bilingual, and spoke with the family in Spanish.

“It seemed to give him some comfort to put a face to the person who’s working with him every day,” she says. “He could see that being reunited with his family was a possibility.”

The Immigration Clinic submitted the original applications for humanitarian parole for Alfredo’s parents to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on April 18. Because of the existing deportation order, it was transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), where it languished while Alfredo’s condition worsened. When the clinic updated the agency with a new letter from his oncologist explaining the teenager’s tenuous condition, ICE refused to expedite the application. The clinic renewed its humanitarian parole request with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection at San Ysidro and, with the family’s permission, alerted the media to the story. With the media attention and advocacy from Sen. Kamala Harris’s office, the humanitarian parole applications were approved on July 21, three months after the initial filing. Shortly after, Alfredo’s parents were able to reunite with him in the U.S.

Scott, the 2020 Irmas Fellow in Public Interest Law and Legal Ethics, now represents unaccompanied minors for the Immigrant Defenders Law Center in Los Angeles. She says she learned in the clinic “how to make clients’ voices understood and advocate relentlessly.” Drawn to immigration law because of her family background (Scott is of Mexican heritage on her mother’s side), she adds, “What many don’t realize is that our immigration system inherently leads to family separation in a lot of ways. Alfredo’s case is just one example.”

Sadly, Alfredo passed away on Nov. 10 after courageously facing his disease.

Professor Jean Reisz, who co-directs the clinic with Professor Niels Frenzen, says Alfredo’s case was particularly challenging but Scott persisted despite several obstacles.

“Reuniting him with his parents for potentially the last time was difficult in unconventional ways given the pandemic, office closures at DHS, social distancing restrictions and Alfredo’s poor prognosis,” she says. “Carson was responsive to all these factors and really came through for Alfredo, and for the clinic.”

To learn more about the USC Gould Immigration Clinic and its work, email immclinic@law.usc.edu. 

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