Originally published by LA Times
It was Reina Gómez’s “final date” in all senses of the word.
Her “final” chance to persuade immigration officials that she should not be deported, largely because medical treatment she needs is not available in her homeland of Honduras.
And “final” to represent the end of her life, because — as her doctor says — deporting her would be a death sentence.
But “final” became “temporary” last week, when Gómez’s application for a humanitarian visa was granted by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service.
"I'm so excited. When I entered they took all my documents to another place. Then an officer came and told me my case is approved. I understood what they told me, but I did not react. My lawyer translated and told me: 'They approved you,’ but I could only say: 'I'm in shock'" said Gómez, of Miami.
"We obtained the best possible results ... It is an extremely rare result that her case has been approved, and I am very happy that she can stay another year," Gómez's lawyer, Maya Ibars, of Catholic Legal Services said at a news conference outside ICE after leaving the appointment.
Gómez, 50, fled the violence of Honduras 15 years ago, after her 15-year-old son was killed. She applied for asylum but was denied and instead received a deportation order. Since then, all she has been able to obtain are temporary residence permits, extended year after year.
But during her first immigration appointment under President Donald Trump's new administration in 2017, Reina received only 30 days to prove that she cannot receive medical treatment in Honduras for her illness. The "final date" was repeatedly postponed until last week.
"I come today with great anxiety, with a lot of faith because faith is paramount. My future and my life are in the hands of an immigration officer,” she said before going into the ICE office in Miramar. "I live with anxiety. I see a psychologist, who tells me that it is difficult for me to stay well because my life is in limbo."
Gómez was diagnosed nine years ago with thrombocytopenia, a rare type of blood cancer.
"In my country I cannot receive treatment for the disease I have," Gómez said hours before her hearing.
She brought with her the medical files from Jackson Memorial Hospital that show it would be impossible in Honduras to continue receiving the treatment she needs.
"The oncologist who is treating me tells me to say that sending me to Honduras is condemning me to death. He says that the medicine I need is on the list in Honduras, but they do not have it in stock,” Gómez said. “I have proof that no pharmacy in my country has the medication. I cannot go a day without treatment."
Gómez arrived for her hearing wearing green, what she calls the color of hope, accompanied by fellow members of the Miami Workers Center who were there to form a “Circle of Protection” at the immigration appointment.
"I am here asking for a humanitarian visa. I am honest, hardworking. Even with the condition that I have, I keep getting up every day and working,” Gómez said. “I have always paid my taxes, I am a woman who does not ask for help.”
Friends and group members waited for her outside of the ICE offices.
"Year by year, since she had her first appointment with ICE, every three months, we come to support her, accompany her to give her strength, since she is a community woman. We have been working together for 12 years doing community work," says Milagros Jiménez, a member of the Miami Workers Center and a close friend of Gómez.
Gómez told El Sentinel that she will continue to fight, because her status has been approved only for a year.
"In extreme cases, if you have no other option under the law, she should contact a congressman. Although it is very rare, a congressman has the power to introduce a bill [on behalf of the person], authorizing a private law" said Brian Becker, a Boca Raton attorney. He is not involved in Gómez’s case.
"Congress can grant permanent residence to the person. But these private laws are very rare, and ICE can limit the stay and perhaps deport the person while the case is pending," said Becker, an immigration columnist for El Sentinel. "But, if a person like Reina does not qualify for anything under the laws and if she can prove that she is going to die when she arrives in Honduras [extreme case], she should speak directly with a federal congressman to see if he is willing to help her."
Although Gómez has a work permit and driver's license, nervousness about the uncertain future is not good for her health.
"I am tired of living month to month without knowing if I will be able to continue my treatment, without being able to think about my future," she said. "If ICE had decided to deport me, it would have been as if I had been sentenced to death."