Published November 30, 2011
A 5-year-old girl in Elizabeth, New Jersey, awaits an uncertain fate. Yarelis Bonilla, a United States citizen, has been diagnosed with leukemia and has endured chemotherapy at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center – but her doctors say that she needs a bone marrow transplant to survive.
Yarelis' perfect bone marrow match is her older sister, Giselle, 7, who lives with her maternal grandmother in El Salvador. In a recent interview with Noticiero Univision in El Salvador, Giselle said that she wants to save her little sister's life. The only thing standing in Giselle's way - The U.S. State Department has denied a humanitarian visa to her, twice, which would have allowed her to stay in the U.S. for 3 months for the life-saving procedure.
The unwavering stance of the U.S. State Department on issuing a visa to little Giselle has left the family to wonder what the future holds.
"She has changed a lot," her mother Maria said in Spanish of Yarelis, "She's a very sad girl."
However, thanks to U.S. Senator Robert Menendez and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Newark, Yarelis may have a second chance. Senator Menendez (D-NJ)and the human rights organization have stepped in to help the Bonilla family apply again for a special humanitarian visa so that Giselle can finally come to the United States and save her sister's life.
"The government’s role is to ultimately protect its citizens and to preserve their life," Senator Menendez said. "In this instance, that happens to mean having this young girl get her sister here to give her a transplant…[it] is something we should be able to do."
Mariam Habib, a lawyer for the AFSC, said the family is now awaiting a ruling but "hopeful" about the outcome.
I'm in agreement with Senator Menendez – and would be even if Yarelis Bonilla wasn't a U.S. Citizen. Some who have heard this story question whether the family has medical insurance, who is paying for the procedures, why one sister is in El Salvador and one is here, as well as what the legal status of her parents is here in the United States – I believe that none of that matters.
A little girl's life weighs in the balance. I would hope that no matter the circumstances, (which are no fault of Yarelis), that when faced with leaving a child to die, our country would put aside differences to help her live.
Tracy López is a bilingual writer living outside the DC Metro area and the founder of Latinaish.com.