A Mexican immigrant in southern Minnesota who suffers from kidney disease, and his father, have won a reprieve from federal immigration authorities and will be able to avoid deportation.
Alejandro Cruz Blanco, 24, and Simon Cruz Perez, were ordered by immigration officials to leave the United States by Jan. 15.
But they will be able to remain in Minnesota now that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials reversed themselves.
The news is a relief for the immigrants and for hundreds of supporters in the town of St. James, Minn. who rallied behind them. Cruz Blanco and his father, who entered the United States without authorization, had their airplane tickets ready and were scheduled to fly to Mexico next Monday.
“I feel like I can breathe now.”Alejandro Cruz Blanco
In letters announcing the decision to allow them to stay, immigration officials offered no explanation. They also did not respond to requests for comment.
Cruz Blanco, said he's relieved that the deportation order was canceled.
"Oh, I feel wonderful," he said. "Very happy, I feel like I can breathe now."
Four years ago, his father donated a kidney to him. Both are in good health now, but Cruz Blanco takes anti-rejection drugs and other medication every day because of the transplant.
In an interview before he learned he could stay in the United States, Cruz Blanco said he doubted he could receive adequate medical care in Mexico.
"I got to take my pills all my life," he said. "Nowhere to go there in Mexico. If I get sick, it's going to be worse."
His doctor is more blunt.
In a letter of support, Dr. Tina Melanson said sending Blanco back to Mexico meant "certain death."
Melanson, who contacted medical officials in the area around Veracruz, Mexico, where Cruz Blanco and his father are from, said the region's prevailing wages would not provide the two with enough money to pay for the anti-rejection drugs.
"One missed dose allows your body opportunity to recognize that kidney is foreign," Melanson said. "And once that rejection starts it is very hard to get it under control."
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who was among those who urged federal immigration officials to allow Cruz Blanco and his father to stay in Minnesota, told the agency that it needed to follow its own stated policies. Klobuchar said a 2011 Immigrations and Customs Enforcement memo spelled out specific factors that immigration agents should consider in deciding whether to deport an individual.
"And it clearly says that circumstances of medical history and some kind of severe illness are reason that someone's deportation can be deferred or other decisions made," she said.
The senator also said the problems in the St. James case underscore the need for immigration law reform.
Word that Cruz Blanco and his father won't be deported was welcome news to many residents of St. James.
Pharmacist Paul Windschill, who was one of those active in the effort to help them stay, helped raise money for them. One of the major events residents staged was an enchilada feed.
"We had a great involvement with all of our Caucasian and Hispanic people, and rallied to his support," Windschill said. "We're noted for that in our community. We're a very helpful, generous community when anybody needs help. We rally together."
In all, residents raised more than $10,000 to help the family. Much of the money went for a down payment on the kidney transplant operation.
The announcement of the deportation stay means that Cruz Blanco and his father can stay at least another year in Minnesota. They hope to eventually be allowed to stay permanently.