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Sister of New Jersey Cancer Patient Granted Visa to Try to Save Her Life

Five year-old Elizabeth, New Jersey resident Yarellis Bonilla, who suffers from leukemia, needs a bone marrow transplant to save her life. Immigration officials agreed last week to grant humanitarian parole to her older sister, seven year-old Giselle Bonilla, to come to the United States from El Salvador to participate in transplant surgery. The story by no means has a happy ending yet, but doctors have offered a good prognosis for Yarellis once she has the surgery. Under the terms of her visa, her sister Giselle will be able to stay for three months. They plan on doing the surgery at Newark’s Beth Israel Children’s Hospital after the new year.

The Bonilla family had fought for months to get permission for Giselle to come to New Jersey for her sister. The U.S. Department of State had previously denied two visa applications from Giselle. According to the family’s lawyer, the government looked at the size of the family in the United States and did not trust that Giselle would return to El Salvador upon the expiration of her visa. While the family waited for the government to approve Giselle’s application, Yarellis had to undergo repeated, and avoidable, chemotherapy treatments that have left her weaker than her doctors would like. Had the surgery happened earlier, she would not have needed so many intensive treatments, subjecting her to what one doctor called “a beating.” New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, who has advocated extensively for the family, hailed immigration officials’ decision, calling it “the victory of common sense over bureaucracy.” He lamented that their decision did not come sooner.

Humanitarian parole is a way for someone who might otherwise be inadmissible to the United States to come here legally for a limited time period and for a specific purpose. It requires an applicant to demonstrate “urgent humanitarian reasons” or a “significant public benefit,” and it can only be granted for a period of time equivalent to the duration of the humanitarian situation. In Giselle Bonilla’s case, the three-month period is the length of time needed to participate in the surgery and recover.

Immigration authorities grant humanitarian parole “sparingly,” and have wide discretion to assess applicants’ circumstances. The government occasionally announces a policy related to specific events or circumstances. The Department of Homeland Security announced last year, for example, that it would grant humanitarian parole to Haitian children orphaned in the earthquake of early 2010, so that they can receive medical care. Decisions as to specific children would still be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Giselle Bonilla will have to leave the United States before the three-month period expires. She could apply for “reparole” to stay longer, but would have to show a continued need to stay in the country for a humanitarian reason. If the surgery, or her recovery, takes longer than expected, that could be grounds for reparole. She cannot, however, use her presence in the United States, in and of itself, to try to obtain any further immigration benefits.

The New Jersey immigration lawyers at Samuel C. Berger, PC help immigrants seeking visas to come to, or remain in, the United States. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys today, contact us online or at (201) 587-9200.