From kidney disease to DACA, uncertainty besets Minnesota brothers

STAR TRIBUNE | Mila Klumpilova

In the weeks before surgery, 25-year-old Carlos grappled with mixed emotions over Jeremy's gift. Then, a White House announcement cast another layer of doubt.

Jeremy, left, the donor, says goodbye to his brother Carlos, right, the recipient, before he is wheeled into the operating room. LEILA NAVIDI – STAR TRIBUNE
Carlos Villafan Priego’s predawn arrival at the hospital has a deceptively routine feel: stepping on the scales, the rundown of current medications, the blood pressure cuff above his forearm tattoo that reads “Familia.” But on the other side of a curtain, Jeremy Villafan Priego, Carlos’ younger brother, is preparing to give him his right kidney.

In the weeks before the surgery, the 25-year-old Carlos grappled with mixed emotions over Jeremy’s gift. Three years of thrice-weekly dialysis had taken a toll, but his routine was now familiar. He felt he finally had some control over the mysterious autoimmune disorder diagnosed in junior high — a few years after the brothers trudged across the U.S.-Mexico border in the night.

Then, a White House announcement cast another layer of uncertainty: The government said it was phasing out Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama-era deportation reprieve program to which Carlos owed a fledgling career as an electrician — and his employer health insurance plan.

Carlos and Jeremy consider themselves unlikely spokesmen in the high-pitched DACA debate, in which critics decry the program as endorsing illegal immigration. The brothers are not the doctor- and lawyer-to-be Dreamers they see in the media, eager to lobby and protest. They are blue-collar family men, wary of the spotlight. With the surgery looming, they wavered about lending their tale to the debate. Continue reading
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