Little girl in need of lifesaving transplant as family faces deportation

SEATTLE — A local family is sharing their story in hopes of remaining in Seattle and saving their daughter’s life.

Nicholas Espinosa and Maria Saenz legally moved to the United States more than 10 years ago. They planned to stay for only two years while Espinosa finished a graduate degree and internship.

But soon after their second daughter, Julia, was born, the family was forced to extend their stay. Julia was diagnosed with a rare congenital defect that would require a pancreas, liver, and intestine transplant. Since the diagnosis, she’s been treated at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Intestinal transplants aren’t available in Ecuador, so the Espinosa family applied for Medical Deferred Action to remain in Seattle. Julia and her sister are American citizens, but their parents are Ecuadorian citizens. The deferred status would allow the whole family to live, work, and receive medical care in the United States, without the threat of deportation.

But the status was not an instant fix for the family, who writes, “The first time we applied for Deferred Action we were not able to work for one and a half years. Remember, we have a daughter that requires to have daily infusions and constant medical support. We survived by the mercy and grace of our family in Ecuador.”

“You just try to live but you are actually in survival mode,” says Espinosa. “And that is how you have to live.”

The family must reapply for Deferred Action every two years. They’re currently waiting to be granted this status again before their work visas expire in July. Without work visas the family could lose their health insurance, making Julia ineligible for the transplant list.

“That’s one of the first things you read … If she loses insurance she’ll be removed from the transplant list,” says Saenz. “We’re giving all that we can to keep her healthy, strong and thriving. But we have all these doors that keep closing.”

Without their visas, the family also faces the threat of deportation. Julia’s doctors say it’s imperative for her to stay in Seattle.

In a letter, Dr. Jorge Reyes writes, “If she were to return to Ecuador and be subject to the limited access to the specialized care she requires, she would not survive. Julia continues to receive care on a regular basis from our team at Seattle Children’s and I strongly advocate that she remains in the Seattle region in order for us to provide this life-saving care.”

As the family waits on their status renewal, Espinosa continues to reach out to lawmakers. During a trip to Washington D.C., their case was addressed at an Oversight Committee hearing on immigration. They’ve even started an online petition, advocating for stability for Medical Deferred Action recipients. More than 37,000 people have already signed.

Espinosa says they hope that Julia can get the transplant soon, so their family can return to Ecuador and have stability.

“If I can wish anything, I wish that Julia will be all healthy. And then we could be in Ecuador, and everything would be OK,” says Espinosa.