(NEW YORK) — A 14-year-old girl battling leukemia will soon be reunited with her mom after a group of strangers fought to get her mother into the U.S. from Mexico to be with her during her treatment.
Dalia Lorenza Perez was granted a temporary humanitarian waiver and allowed into the U.S. on Tuesday at the San Ysidro, California, port of entry, a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) official confirmed to “Good Morning America.”
Perez is now traveling to Durham, North Carolina, where her daughter, Ixcell Sandoval Perez, is being treated for relapsed leukemia at Duke University Medical Center.
The upcoming reunion between the mother and daughter will mark the end of a months-long battle, led by Solidarity Now, an immigration rights advocacy group, to allow Perez to see her daughter.
Ixcell was born in North Carolina, but returned to Mexico around nine years ago with her family, according to Cole Miller, founding director of Solidarity Now.
She was diagnosed with leukemia last year and was treated in Tapachula, Chiapas, where her family lives, Miller told “GMA” earlier this week.
When her leukemia relapsed earlier this summer, Ixcell and her mom traveled four days by bus to the border crossing at Tijuana, Mexico, in hopes of being allowed into the U.S. to seek treatment.
In a video shared by Solidarity Now, Perez described being held with her daughter by border officials in a small room overnight before being turned away from entering the U.S.
“I made a declaration and they asked me if I was seeking political asylum, if someone was trying to kill or persecute me,” she said. “I said, ‘No, the only reason I want to enter the United States is my daughter’s illness. She has leukemia and I brought all the papers.”
Soon after Ixcell and her mom were denied entry, a relative who is a legal, permanent resident in the U.S. traveled to the border and was able to help Ixcell legally cross into the U.S., according to Miller.
Ixcell then began treatment for relapsed leukemia at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.
Perez continued to be denied entry into the U.S., which inspired a team of legal aid and immigration advocacy groups to work to get humanitarian parole for Perez, which would allow her to be let into the U.S. for a temporary period.
“Dalia Perez was denied a U.S. non-immigrant Visa due to past immigration violations resulting in a 10-year ban on re-entering the United States,” CBP said in a statement to “GMA,” noting the agency granted Perez a temporary humanitarian waiver “after careful consideration.”
While Ixcell and her mom awaited a decision, strangers from two local churches rallied to be by Ixcell’s side.
The churches provided a steady stream of visitors, including bilingual speakers for Ixcell, who only speaks Spanish. They also brought her food, cards and gifts like books and crafts to keep her occupied.
“I think it’s very clear how desperately she wants her mom to be with her,” said Rev. Carla Gregg-Kearns, pastor of Good Shepherd United Church of Christ in Cary, North Carolina, who has visited Ixcell twice in the hospital. “That is really an emotionally overwhelming experience, to go through this sort of grave illness without the support of a parent.”
Gregg-Kearns’ congregation and another church in Durham also worked behind the scenes on Ixcell’s behalf, reaching out to their local congressman, Rep. David Price, for help. He sent a letter of support to the Department of Homeland Security on July 23, 2019.
“You need look no further than the situation of 14-year-old Ixcell Perez, a U.S. citizen in Raleigh battling leukemia while separated from her mother in Mexico, to see that our immigration system is broken,” Price told “GMA” in a statement before CBP granted Perez a waiver. “In this heartbreaking case, I have asked immigration officials to use discretionary tools at their disposal — such as waivers and emergency humanitarian parole — to end this unnecessary suffering and reunite mother and daughter during cancer treatment.”
Ixcell’s oncologist also submitted a letter to CBP officials in June requesting humanitarian parole for her mom.
“Again, I want to stress that Ixcell has a relapsed cancer, which is life-threatening and requires very intensive therapy,” Dr. Michael Deel wrote in the letter, shared with “GMA” by Solidarity Now. “She is currently in the hospital with very low infection-fighting cells and fevers that is required broad-spectrum antibiotics and support.”
“While I am hopeful that she will recover from this acute event, she will absolutely have medical complications like this in the months ahead,” he wrote. “For Ixcell’s physical, mental and emotional well-being, I sincerely urge you to grant humanitarian parole for her mother.”
Deel’s initial request for humanitarian parole for Perez was denied on June 24, according to a notation on the letter.
Both Deel and Duke University Medical Center declined to comment to “GMA” citing patient confidentiality.
Ixcell also spoke out about her mom amid the appeal to allow her into the U.S.
“This is about my mother. I want her to come here to take care of me because I need her,” she said in the video shared by Solidarity Now. “It’s not easy to be here without her.”
Prior to Perez’s entry into the U.S., Gregg-Kearns said she and her congregation were “committed” to supporting Ixcell and even making “long-term” plans for her care, as reported by Durham ABC station WTVD.
“Our main concern is Ixcell’s health and well-being and whatever that takes,” she said.
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