El Salvador girl denied US visa to save sister's life
A girl from El Salvador has been denied a visa to enter the United States in order to donate bone marrow that could save her sister's life.
Yarelis Bonilla, five, of Elizabeth in New Jersey, has lymphocytic leukaemia and her best hope is a bone-marrow transplant from a perfect match donor.
Her seven-year-old sister, Gisselle, would fit the bill but she lives in El Salvador and has twice been denied a visa by the US embassy.
Marian Habib, the lawyer representing the family of Yarelis, who was born in the US, said: "It is truly an emergency. This is a race against time." She said the US embassy in El Salvador has to be convinced that the girl's life is at risk and that her sister will return to her home country after the transplant.
The family of the girls insisted that the operation cannot be carried out in El Salvador as the country cannot provide the level of medical care required.
A report from the paediatrics department at Newark Beth Israel Medical Centre described Yarelis's condition as "life-threatening".
Senator Robert Menendez, from New Jersey, requested the State Department to review the case but his immigration services director, Kerlyn Espinal, said the visa was still denied.
She said Senator Menendez will now support an appeal that would allow Gisselle "humanitarian parole" – meaning she could enter the US for the sole purpose of donating bone marrow.
"There is often a fear, in cases like this, that the recipient of the visa will not return home," said Espinal.
The sisters' parents are separated and Yarelis lives in New Jersey with her father Dagoberto, while her older sister lives in El Salvador with her maternal grandmother.
Gertrudis Ramirez, the paternal grandfather of the girls and an American citizen, said: "It's hard for me to believe this country would not want to save the life of one of its own children. This little girl is an American." Habib said she was still optimistic of a breakthrough.
"We think we can make a convincing case," she said. "We're sure that, once the government has all the facts, it will recognise the seriousness of the situation."