Helpful program is little known
By Frank Oliveri
Advertiser Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON Since Sept. 11, 2001, Philippine-born kidney patients in Hawai'i have unsuccessfully worked through the U.S. Consulate in Manila in hopes of bringing potential donor-family members to St. Francis Medical Center for transplant surgery.
But immigration experts said these kidney patients, who are either naturalized citizens or permanent U.S. residents, might be working with the wrong government agency.
While there are no medical or humanitarian provisions when seeking a temporary visa, the Department of Homeland Security offers a program called Humanitarian Parole that is in place primarily for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.
Hospital and congressional officials, who have long sought to help ailing kidney patients bring donors to Hawai'i, were unaware of the program. They see a glimmer of hope for up to 15 Philippine-born kidney patients who have all but given up trying to bring a family member to the United States so they can have life-saving surgery.
"Not only has no hospital official, doctor or patient advised me of this," said Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawai'i, who will introduce legislation that would make it easier for those who seek visas for humanitarian reasons, "but nobody from the State Department or the U.S. Consulate said anything about this."
Jessica Vaughan, a former U.S. consular official and an analyst with the Center for Immigration Studies, said the program is not widely known."
Philippine-born kidney patients in Hawai'i "should be able to make their case (for humanitarian parole) persuasively and effectively," said Marshall Fitz, associate director for the American Immigration Lawyers Association in Washington. "This is a specific context and one that, with the type of paperwork the hospital and transplant agency should be able to work up, I'm surprised to hear that they haven't used it."
If donors can obtain "humanitarian parole," transplant patients could be removed from a list of people in need of a kidney. That would enable everyone on the list after the Filipino patient to move up. Currently, there are 389 people in Hawai'i waiting for a kidney, about 100 of whom were born in the Philippines.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the parole program is used only in "extraordinary" cases.
It is "sparingly used to bring an otherwise inadmissible alien into the United States for a temporary period" of up to a year for a compelling emergency, according to the Web site for the department.
The application is processed within 60 to 90 days, and requires much of the same information required for a temporary visa.
Cathy Bailey, transplant evaluation coordinator at St. Francis, said she was unaware of the program. Bailey helps patients complete the paperwork necessary to receive a temporary visa.
She said the hospital does not employ an immigration attorney.
"I've been doing the best I can, which is maybe not enough," she said. "I send a letter to the U.S. Consulate; I get a rejection. I haven't gotten any feedback ever. If someone had just called and sent a packet saying, 'Look, you are doing it wrong. This is what you need,' it would have saved (patients) time and money."
Tony Sagayadoro, program coordinator for the Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education program on O'ahu, said he has only just begun to realize the potential. He found out about the program through his own research.
Sagayadoro, himself a kidney transplant recipient who was born in the Philippines, said the program may offer hope.
Francisco Guerrero, who needs a kidney transplant, said he has high hopes that he still might succeed in bringing his son to Hawaii. The son is considered a near-perfect donor match.
"We will keep trying," Guerrero said.