COVID-19 is making things uncertain for most Americans. But for immigrants ensnared in the U.S. Justice System, the looming uncertainty can feel overwhelming. An already-shaky immigration court system has not been immune to the COVID-19 upheaval either.
If you’re concerned about immigration during this uncertain period, here are a few things to know about the current situation and what you can do to ensure your rights are upheld.
The Impact of Coronavirus on Immigration
On March 18, 2020, the office of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had suspended in-person interviews. The coronavirus pandemic will continue to drive changes rapidly.
At the time of this writing, in-person interviews have been suspended until at least May 3, 2020. There is a possibility the suspension period will be extended at or even before that time.
What does this mean for immigration applications and petition interviews?
USCIS will continue to receive and process applications and petitions for immigration benefits, but no biometrics appointments or interviews will take place during this time.
The types of interviews that will continue at field offices run by USCIS include:
- Adjustment of status
- Employment-based permanent residence
- Family petitions
- Removal of conditions
- Asylum-related matters
Once the in-person operations open back up, in-person interviews will be rescheduled.
The Impact on Immigration Courts
An obvious concern for many immigrants is the status of the immigration courts. This is something that is frequently changing, and many immigration courts have closed altogether.
That being said, many have also stayed open — despite dangers presented to public health. In Texas, Houston courts are currently closed, but all other courts in the state are currently open.
For those that are not detained, until further notice, all immigration hearings from March 18, 2020, onward are postponed. Attorneys should receive hearing notices through the mail after non-detained hearings resume.
For immigration courts that remain open, courts will continue to proceed in matters related to immigrants that are currently in federal custody.
What About ICE Enforcement?
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is also reducing enforcement actions amidst the coronavirus pandemic. They are continuing notice of inspections to service employers, but large-scale enforcement actions such as workplace raids have been temporarily halted.
ICE has also agreed not to make arrests related to immigration status or to take any enforcement actions in private or public hospitals, doctor’s offices, health clinics or urgent care facilities unless the circumstances are “exigent.”
That means individuals should not avoid seeking out medical care due to a fear of civil immigration enforcement.
Criminal Convictions and Deportation
Even though there seems to be a temporary truce when it comes to ICE raids and arrests, it’s still important for immigrants in the United States to protect themselves from deportation by avoiding criminal convictions.
Holding a green card or a work visa still doesn’t mean criminal charges won’t threaten your legal status in the United States.
While it is true that minor crimes may not lead to deportation, more serious crimes can such as drug offenses, domestic violence, alien smuggling, and violent crimes.
Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that courts open today will be open tomorrow, that USCIS offices will accept applications in the coming weeks – or even that ICE won’t pick up full-scale operations to target immigrants again soon.
No one has a crystal ball to tell what will happen in the future, which is exactly why you need an experienced attorney on your side. Their help will ensure you have the latest information and that your rights are ensured through these rapidly-changing times.