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Visa Denial Thwarts Child’s Last Wish

THE dream is simple. The reality is not. The dream of an 8-year-old Costa Rican girl suffering from AIDS is to go to Disney World and give her best to Minnie Mouse. But the reality is that complex U.S. immigration policies have shattered these hopes.


The girl, whose name is being withheld, takes 15 medications a day and makes weekly trips to the hospital on the “healthy” occasions that she is not actually interned there. Six years ago her parents, who also suffer from AIDS and passed the disease on to her, abandoned her.


The nonprofit Fundación Vida, which offers emotional and economic support to AIDS victims and their families, was trying to ensure this little girl dons her fair share of smiles before her last and had been offered the support of a generous sponsor.


But the U.S. Embassy has reminded everyone that it’s not such a small world after all. Yesterday, the U.S. Consulate denied, for the second time, visas for both the little girl and Marlone Avila, director of Fundación Vida and the girl’s travel partner.


The visas were originally rejected last week because the girl doesn’t have “familiar attachment” here since she is adopted, Avila told The Tico Times. Avila’s visa was denied because she doesn’t have a salary; she has worked as a volunteer at Fundación Vida for 10 years.


Hope returned after their story was published in the daily Al Día last week and the Consul granted a second appointment yesterday to review the case. But, as the people at Fundación Vida know all too well, second chances sometimes don’t last long, and the visas were denied again, this time because people with AIDS aren’t allowed visas.


SPONSORS of Fundación Vida normally respond to more simple wishes from children like “a new Sponge Bob backpack.”


A trip to Disney World is an exception inspired by tragedy. A man who had sponsored a boy a year ago called Avila recently to offer his support again. When he was told that the boy he sponsored had died, he was reminded of the pending mortality of these children and offered to grant a child’s greatest wish.


“I asked the girl and she told me she wanted to meet Minnie,” Avila said.


The Foundation had hoped to seize the opportunity for the trip within the next couple of weeks. Not only does the girl start school soon – her second round of first grade after missing much of the year last year for blood tests, infectious disease treatments and consultations – but also her health right now is stable enough for travel, something of a rarity in her young life.


No AIDS patient under the care of Fundación Vida has lived past age 12. However, Avila says children with AIDS in Costa Rica receive “very good” care.


“THERE is no reason to fear she will stay in the United States,” she said, scoffing any explanation for the initial rejection of the visa. “Here they provide her with ¢285,000 ($575) a month just in medicine.”


An embassy spokeswoman said she could not comment on the particular case.


Avila said the Consul told her he would send a waiver request to the U.S. government (specifically the Department of Homeland Security) seeking special permission, but a response could take months.


“Why didn’t they tell us before they gave us a second appointment?” said Avila, who paid $200 to apply for the visas. “The thing is, if she was from a wealthy family, she would have gotten to go without revealing her condition.”


While AIDS tests are not required for visas, the applicant form for tourist visas asks if the applicant has a communicable disease of public health significance. Providing false information can result in permanent visa ineligibility, according to the embassy. Seven other communicable diseases are also grounds for rejection.


FUNDACIÓN Vida was started in Costa Rica 16 years ago by a group of doctors. They offer support to not only children with AIDS, but also orphans of AIDS victims and children of AIDS patients currently suffering from the disease.


The organization provides emotional support with the help of volunteer psychologists. And, because most of the 224 children the organization helps come from poor families, it offers, at the very least, a meal when the children are in town for an appointment.


“These are people with scarce resources, so they can’t just go out to eat in a soda,” Avila explained.


Fundación Vida depends on donations from individuals to provide its services and buy school uniforms or Christmas presents for the sick children.


“Right now it’s hard because our sponsors just helped at Christmas, and now we need school supplies,” Avila said.


One 12-year-old boy recently obtained a scholarship to study at an experimental bilingual school in Cartago, east of San José. However, he may not be able to attend the school because he has no money for transportation or a uniform.


“We just try to take it step by step,” Avila said.


To offer support to Fundación Vida, call 221-5819 or 258-3882. Donations can also be deposited directly into the organization’s account at Banco Nacional, N-177910-7.



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