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In this uncertain time, there are many concerns about how COVID-19 is affecting immigration. According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website, ICE has been working closely with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other local, state, and federal agencies to keep everyone safe. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has been updating the public on their website regarding ICE issues related to COVID-19. Below is a short summary of some key areas of concern in how COVID-19 is affecting immigration. 

Enforcement

ICE has temporarily adjusted its enforcement procedures as of March 18, 2020, while shifting its priorities to promoting public-safety and life-saving activities. The ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) has turned its focus primarily to those who are a public safety risk and individuals that are subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds. ERO is exercising discretion for those individuals who do not fall into either of those categories and delaying enforcement actions until the COVID-19 crisis is resolved or alternatives to detention are available, as appropriate. 

During this crisis, ICE will remain consistent with its sensitive location policies meaning it will not conduct enforcement operations at or near any healthcare facilities such as urgent care facilities, hospitals, health clinics, or doctor’s offices except for severe circumstances. Fear of civil immigration enforcement should not deter individuals from seeking the medical attention they need. 

Check-ins

For those released from the Southwest Border, the amount of time for a check-in has been extended from 30 days or less after release to 60 days after release. According to the ICE Guidance on COVID-19, it is recommended that those with a scheduled check-in contact their local field officer for additional guidance. 

Detention

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations has been working alongside disease control specialists, medical professionals, detention experts, and field operators to determine the necessary steps required to minimize the spread of Coronavirus within detention facilities. Based on an evaluation of detained populations in conjunction with the CDC’s guidelines, ICE has identified those who are at higher risk for severe illness from contacting COVID-19. As a result, almost 700 individuals have been released upon an evaluation of their criminal record, immigration history, flight risk, potential threat to public safety, and any national security concerns. This method is also being used when making custody determination for all new arrests along with other potentially vulnerable populations currently in custody. ERO is limiting the intake of detainees introduced to the ICE detention system, creating a 60% decrease in book-ins compared to this time last year. 

Since March 21, 2020, ICE updated its COVID-19 guidance to state that “CE/ERO now requires all legal visitors, CODELs, and STAFFDELs to provide and wear personal protective equipment (PPE) (disposable vinyl gloves, N-95 or surgical masks, and eye protection) while visiting any detention facility.”

Courts

The Executive Office for Immigration Review has implemented court practices to protect participants during the COVID-19 outbreak. “Immigration judges may waive the presence of represented aliens. 8 C.F.R § 1003.25(a). An alien’s representative and the attorney for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may also agree to hold a hearing without the presence of the alien. 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(b)(2)(A)(ii)”. Judges may also choose to conduct a hearing by video teleconferencing when possible. Individual merits hearings may be conducted by telephone in removal proceedings. Immigration judges can also grant a motion for a continuance upon a showing of good cause. 

Removals

Prior to boarding an ICE Air flight, a medical provider conducts a visual screening consistent with current ICE policies. In addition to this, there is a temperature screening at the flight line before boarding. Any detainee with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will be referred to a medical provider immediately for observation and evaluation. 

Need Help with an Immigration Case During COVID-19?

If you or a loved one are facing difficulties with an immigration case and how COVID-19 is affecting immigration, don’t hesitate to contact Novo Legal. Our skilled immigration attorneys are ready to assist you during these uncertain and unprecedented times. Our office is multi-lingual and can help you understand your rights and options for immigration defense.