Health Rights Clinic Helps Cancer Patient to Naturalize Despite Unprecedented USCIS Backlog

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Yuliet Fandino

Yuliet Fandino

Taking the Oath of Allegiance on August 3, 2021 was an emotional victory for one Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center patient-client who, in May 2020, was diagnosed with stage three neuroendocrine carcinoma.

The 62-year-old patient-client faces a meager survival rate – five years in only 26.3% of patients diagnosed. Thanks to 3L Yuliet Fandino, under the supervision of Melissa Swain at Miami Law’s Health Rights Clinic, the patient-client is one step closer to receiving the public benefits he desperately needs to experience the remaining years of his life with greater financial security and peace of mind.

Before seeking legal services from the Health Rights Clinic, the patient-client struggled to navigate the complex framework of rules and eligibility requirements that prevent many immigrants from accessing federal public benefits programs to which they are entitled. Unable to continue working due to his cancer and chemotherapy treatments' debilitating physical and mental effects, the patient-client applied for Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance. Social Security denied his SSI because he missed his window of eligibility as a Legal Permanent Resident. They also rejected SSDI because Social Security determined the patient-client's condition was not "severe enough" to prevent him from working.

Fandino and others at the clinic knew that becoming a U.S. citizen would dramatically increase the patient-client's chances of receiving the economic support he needs. They also knew they were entering a harrowing race against the clock.

According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association, in 2017, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' average processing time for naturalization applications was about 7.9 months. Just four years later, in 2021, after numerous policy changes made by the previous administration and inefficiencies caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic, the average processing time is now up by almost 47%. The naturalization process now takes nearly a full year. Many clients represented by the Health Rights Clinic don't have a year to waste, and this was especially true for Fandino's patient-client.

Fandino convinced USCIS to expedite the patient-client's case, hold his interview, and approve his naturalization application in an outstanding four months. That's less than half the current average processing time of 11.6 months.

"I'm glad I have been able to assist many clients, including [patient-client], as an intern at the Health Rights Clinic," says Fandino. "Together as a team, we have worked hard for our clients to have equal access to the defenses and protections under the law."

"Through the Health Rights Clinic experience, students have the ability to change people's lives, and that alone is a great motivation for all, including me," said Fandino.

Fandino and the Health Rights Clinic continue to represent the patient-client in his appeal for SSDI. Fandino is not only hopeful that the patient-client will receive a favorable decision, but she is also determined. "Through the Health Rights Clinic experience, students have the ability to change people's lives, and that alone is a great motivation for all, including me."

Additional Health Rights Clinic Victories

  • On October 15, 2021, 2L Alessandra Perez, under the supervision of Melissa Swain, won an immigration case for her client, a disabled asylee who had waited over three years for lawful permanent residency. Perez obtained crucial medical evidence for the case and convinced USCIS to approve his adjustment of status. He received his "LPR" card just five days later.
  • While law students were on break in July 2021, Jessica Vocaturo, senior manager of programs and paralegal at the Health Rights Clinic, obtained $37,000.00 in Social Security backpay for a case the clinic had previously won in 2018. Vocaturo detangled the logistical nightmare and convinced the Social Security Administration to provide the client the full backpay amount he is owed.
  • On October 20, 2021, Fandino convinced the Social Security Administration to approve the patient-client's disability case. As a result, the patient-client will receive approximately $800 per month, over $5,000 in back pay, as well as Medicare and Medicaid.
  • On October 22, 2021, 2L Priscilla Ruiz, under the supervision of Melissa Swain at the Health Rights Clinic, won her disabled client's naturalization case. It was a rewarding victory for her client — who has been in this country for over 18 years — as he can now continue receiving SSDI benefits.
  • Second year law student Jennifer Harper, under the supervision of Melissa Swain at the Health Rights Clinic, recently won her client’s disability case. This was a great victory for a client who was unable to work after being diagnosed with Lymphoma. Harper convinced the Social Security Administration to approve the patient-client's disability case. As a result, the patient-client will receive approximately $537 per month and over $5,000 in backpay.

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