Girl, 9, Battling Multiple Illnesses Fights to Stay in U.S.

A 9-year-old girl is battling an array of illnesses while her parents are fighting the family's deportation, worried that the child wouldn't receive good medical care outside the United States.

Lil Mejia was born in 1998 in the Dominican Republic following a difficult pregnancy. She stopped breathing shortly after birth, and seizures and pneumonia followed. She weighed less than 15 pounds on her first birthday.

Six years later, after many medical complications, her parents obtained temporary visas and brought Lil to Grand Rapids, where doctors at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital stabilized her condition: a rare combination of severe asthma, allergies, chronic lung disease and hormone deficiencies.

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Now that their visas have expired, deportation proceedings could force the Mejia family to leave the country. They were relieved when a hearing set for this month in Detroit was postponed, giving them more time to build their case.

"I don't have words to say how much my daughter means to me," Giselle Mejia, 33, told The Grand Rapids Press for a story published Wednesday. "We gave up everything for her."

Grand Rapids pediatrician Monica Randles has treated Lil since a few months after her arrival in March 2005. Randles said the Mejias' fears are justified.

"This is a humanitarian issue. Is this kid going to live? I honestly try not think about this kid being deported," Randles said. "It just gets me enraged."

Medical circumstances aside, the law may work against the family. Susan Im, a Grand Rapids immigration lawyer who represents the family, said they face a "very difficult case."

The Mejias came here on a six-month visa, not anticipating their stay would stretch into years.

Mistakenly diagnosed in the Dominican Republic as having cystic fibrosis, a condition that leads to lung failure and death, doctors in Grand Rapids concluded that Lil instead suffers from severe asthma and a chronic lung condition that left her susceptible to infection.

She lacked a growth hormone produced by the pituitary gland and there was an imbalance in her cortisol levels, another hormone that regulates electrolytes. For all this, she takes about a dozen medications.

Lil's care became tenuous when the family's second six-month visa expired in March 2006.

Im is pinning her hopes on a couple of long-shot strategies.

She is pressing for relief from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which could issue an administrative ruling that would allow the Mejias to remain in the country on humanitarian grounds. Such rulings are rare.

She also is in contact with the office of U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit. Levin could introduce a bill that would grant the family permanent resident status.

"Our staff has been working with the family and their attorneys to determine what administrative and legal options are available to them, to assist them as appropriate," said Tara Andringa, a Levin spokeswoman.