Two married Houston neurologists were nearly deported after immigration officials refused to extend their temporary permission to remain in the United States. The move would have uprooted Dr. Pankaj Satija and Dr. Monika Ummat’s lives (the couple has two small children), in addition to possibly jeopardizing those of dozens of patients scheduled for specialized surgery with the doctors in the coming weeks.
Instead, the doctors—who were born in India and have lived legally in the U.S. for more than a decade—were granted a 90-day reprieve on humanitarian grounds this Thursday to get their papers in order, the Houston Chronicle reports.
“I have 50 patients today and 40 patients tomorrow,” Satija told the Chronicle. “I’m just concerned they’ll be left in the lurch. They could land in the emergency room.”
This high-stakes medical drama has reportedly been brought about because of a technical error with the couple’s paperwork. Per the Chronicle:
“The problem began last year when for some reason their travel document was issued for only one year, unlike the typical period of two years like their employment authorization.
Further confusing the issue was that Customs and Border Protection officials stamped their travel document saying that it expired in June this year, when in fact U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services noted that their document actually expired in June 2016.
The surgeons did not notice the discrepancy. They had an unusually busy year and were not planning international travel. Then last October, Satija’s brother called from Delhi and said that their father was extremely ill and had been admitted to intensive care. The family needed to go right away.”
When the couple returned, an officer informed them that their travel document had expired four months prior, but assured them it was, “a common mistake,” according to Satija, though it would take some time to get permanent residency papers in place. In the meantime, the couple applied for a temporary stay, which they were informed this week could not be extended, due to a new policy.
The Chronicle called the doctors’ treatment by immigration officials, “the latest example of the government taking an unusually hard line on immigration and declining to consider cases on an individual basis.”
The couple’s lawyer told the Chronicle, “These are not tough decisions. These are not criminals, not a threat to society. It’s just the rigidity of the system…and instead of trying to work with people, the new administration is just trying to force them out, no matter what.”
[via the Houston Chronicle]