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Nurses, Healthcare Workers Galvanize to Stop Deportation of Patient That Could Mean 'Death Sentence'

"This is an issue of basic morality."

Maria Isabel Bueso, 24, speaks during a protest outside of UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital on September 06, 2019 in Oakland, California.

Maria Isabel Bueso, 24, speaks during a protest outside of UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital on September 06, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A group of healthcare providers rallied outside a California hospital on Friday to protest a patient's possible deportation—an action her advocates say would be an effective death sentence.

"Immigrants are human beings whose lives are not to be thrown away," said Aina Gagui, an RN at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland, in a press statement.

The case involves 24-year-old Maria Isabel Bueso, who's been receiving life-saving treatment which is unavailable in her home country of Guatemala for the rare disease she suffers from, mucopolysaccharidosis type VI, at the Bay Area hospital since she was seven. Bueso and her parents came to the country at the invitation of Dr. Paul Harmatz, who wanted Isabel to take part in clinical trials.

While Bueso and her family have been in the country legally under the medical "deferred action" program that gives those receiving needed medical condition permission to stay. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.) explained this week that the family "has followed every rule."

"They came here legally, paid their taxes, and Isabel's participation in groundbreaking clinical trials has given hope to Americans with rare diseases," said DeSaulnier.

But in mid-August, the family got news that Isabel's mom, Karla, said made her feel like "the whole world was collapsing." The Bueso family received a letter from the Department of Homeland Security saying the deferment was not being renewed, as it had been previously, and that the family must leave the country within 33 days or face deportation.

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Uncertainty continued on Monday when the administration announced it was reopening cases of such deferments. But the administration did not say it was getting rid of the controversial policy change fully. Nor was it clear that another medical deferrment for Isabel, who is wheelchair-bound, was a sure thing.

For Isabel, it's a matter of life or death.

"You're really handing her a death sentence," Dr. Harmatz told MSNBC last week of a possible deportation. "It's as if we're pulling the plug on a respirator or stopping feedings for a patient that needs that type of support."

Healthcare workers at the hospital hope that scenario never happens.

"It's our duty as nurses to fight for what's best for our patients, regardless of their immigration status," said Bonnie Castillo, executive director of California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA/NNU).

"There are no borders to caring for our patients' health," said Castillo, "and nurses are standing up to demand Maria Isabel Bueso and other patients maintain their right to receive lifesaving care. This is an issue of basic morality."

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