From left, AFSC attorney Mariam Habib and US Sen. Menendez pose with the family of Yarelis Bonilla, in wheelchair, and her medical team.Photo: AFSC / Elissa Steglich
Twice the United States denied travel visas for seven-year-old Gisselle Bonilla to come to New Jersey to donate her bone marrow to her very ill five-year-old sister, Yarelis. When the family reached out to AFSC’s immigration program based in Newark, we collaborated with New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez' office to help. Thanks to diligent work by AFSC staff and Sen. Menendez' personal attention, there was a change of heart. He announced on Friday, December 2, 2011 that Gisselle has received a temporary visa and she should arrive in this country within the next thirty days. While Yarelis is an American citizen, her sister lives in El Salvador with a grandmother.
According to the oncologist treating Yarelis, the delay in getting the transplant meant that the young patient had to undergo additional chemotherapy treatments that further weakened her condition. At the news conference with Sen. Menendez, Yarelis was wrapped in a warm blanket in a wheelchair with a mask over her face to reduce the chances of infection.
Mariam Habib of AFSC’s Immigrant Rights Program said, "Now Yarelis has a chance for life. We hope this case raises the awareness of the many roadblocks and dilemmas facing immigrants and even their American citizen relatives."