El Salvador girl comes to NJ to help sick sister

December 24, 2011 2:40:04 PM PST
A young Salvadoran girl has come to New Jersey so she can give a life-saving bone marrow transplant to her 5-year-old sister.

Seven-year-old Gisselle Bonilla Ramirez arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport early Friday, three weeks after federal officials agreed to provide her with a humanitarian visa.

That came after the U.S. State Department had twice denied her a visitor visa that would have let her stay in the country up to three months.

Doctors have determined that Yarelis Bonilla, an American citizen who is undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia, desperately needs the marrow transplant as her best chance to live a normal life. And they determined that Gisselle - who had never met her sister before - was a perfect match after their whole family was tested.

Officials say the marrow transplant will likely take place sometime next week at Hackensack University Medical Center.

State Department officials have repeatedly declined comment on why the visitor visa requests were rejected, citing visa confidentiality laws. But lawyers for the family have said that when a visa applicant has several family members living in the U.S., the government has a tendency to deny the application on the presumption the visitor will remain in the country.

The family was able to secure the humanitarian visa earlier this month after U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., personally sent the family's application to the head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The humanitarian visa, which is valid for 90 days, allowed Gisselle to travel to New Jersey strictly for the transplant.

Yarelis was born in the U.S. and both her parents live here. Her sister lives with the girls' grandmother in El Salvador.

A letter in support of the humanitarian visa application from the head of Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, where Yarelis is being treated, said the child was diagnosed in May with "high risk acute lymphocytic leukemia." The letter describes the form of blood cancer as "life threatening and extremely serious," and with a poor prognosis.

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