(NEW YORK) — A 14-year-old girl is battling leukemia as a group of strangers fight on her behalf to get her mother into the U.S. from Mexico to be with her during her treatment.
“This is about my mother. I want her to come here to take care of me because I need her,” Ixcell Sandoval Perez said in a video shared by Solidarity Now, the immigration rights advocacy group fighting on her behalf. “It’s not easy to be here without her.”
Ixcell was born in North Carolina but returned to Mexico around nine years ago with her family, Cole Miller, founding director of Solidarity Now, told “Good Morning America.”
She was diagnosed with leukemia last year and was treated in Tapachula, Chiapas, where her family lives, according to Miller.
When her leukemia relapsed earlier this summer, Ixcell and her mom, Dalia Lorenza Perez Perez, 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 describes 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,” Perez recalled. “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.
Miller is now leading a team of legal aid and immigration advocacy groups working to get humanitarian parole for Perez, which would allow her to be paroled into the U.S. for a temporary period.
“The mother can’t sleep at night,” Miller said of Perez, whom he met with in Tijuana on Monday and described as “extremely emotional.”
“She’s very grateful people are making an effort to assist her but she’s distraught because she knows that Ixcell needs her,” he said, noting that the mother and daughter have been able to communicate by phone and FaceTime.
While Ixcell and her mom await a decision, strangers from two local churches have rallied to be by Ixcell’s side.
The churches have provided a steady stream of visitors, including bilingual speakers for Ixcell, who only speaks Spanish. They have 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 are also working 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. “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 U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (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 request for humanitarian parole for Perez was denied on June 24, 2019, according to a notation on the letter.
Both Deel and Duke University Medical Center declined to comment to “GMA” citing patient confidentiality.
Customs Border Patrol officials in both Washington, D.C., and California did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Miller, who has also visited Ixcell in the hospital, said he is working with legal defense groups in California to continue the appeals on behalf of Perez. She was most recently denied entry by San Ysidro Port Authority officials, near San Diego, in late July, according to Miller.
“She could reapply for a visa but it could be months before she receives the visa, if she receives it at all,” he said. “But she could be paroled into the country by border officials today.”
Gregg-Kearns said she and her congregation are also “committed” to supporting Ixcell, especially if her mom continues to be denied entry to the U.S.
“On the one hand we are advocating and doing whatever we can to have her mom join her here, and on the other hand we know that’s out of our control, that we’re not the final decision makers on that,” she said. “So we’ve been thinking about a long-term plan of how to help her if her mom can’t come.
“Our main concern is Ixcell’s health and well-being and whatever that takes,” she added.
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