Expert discusses what COVID-19 means for immigration

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The COVID-19 pandemic has begun to have a profound effect on immigration to the United States. We asked Valeria Gomez, a lecturer at the UConn Law School for Asylum and Human Rights, to explain what was happening and what the long-term consequences could be.

How does a pandemic affect asylum seekers in immigration courts?

Most are in limbo. On March 18, 2020, the Ministry of Justice, which oversees the immigration courts, announced that all hearings for non-citizens who are not held in immigration detention will be postponed. This decision was made rather late, and only after the Ministry of Justice received a lot of criticism for continuing to hold hearings that required judges and court staff, immigration and customs prosecutors (ICE), lawyers, immigrantsand witnesses are sitting in cramped rooms in small hearing rooms. Persons involved in the expulsion process who are seeking asylum or other assistance are already facing long delays – it may take three years or more to schedule a hearing in some immigration courts – and canceling and rescheduled closure of the courts will make these expectations even longer. But this will reduce the impact of the COVID-19 virus.

The Department of Justice, however, has not suspended the hearing for detained immigrants. Instead, the agency closed only certain court locations in each case; for example, on March 24, the Department of Justice announced that it would close an immigration court in New York and another in New Jersey after confirming that individuals with COVID-19 had appeared there. In an unprecedented joint statement, the National Association of Immigration Judges (Judges Union), the ICE Workers Union and the American Immigration Lawyers Association condemned federal governmentthe decision to continue the hearing during the pandemic. They say that the inability of the Department of Justice to effectively address security issues has placed immigrants, lawyers, and judges at an unacceptable risk.

What are the conditions for asylum seekers who are in custody?

The risk that we impose on detained immigrants cannot be overestimated. ICE reported several positive coronavirus tests among staff and detainees in detention centers, but did not disclose how many immigrants were detained. This is extremely alarming because immigrants in custody cannot apply the principles of social distance or quarantine. On Saturday federal judge ordered the government to “make continuous efforts” to release migrant children from custody because of the danger to their health.

The continued detention of immigrants in these conditions creates serious constitutional problems. The Supreme Court confirmed that immigration detention is a civilian form of detention designed to restrict immigrants who are waiting for their day in an immigration court, rather than punishing them for committing a crime. Several organizations have sued the federal government for the release of immigrants in custody. These lawyers point out that detainees are not serving sentences for crimes committed – in fact, most people in custody at immigration services have no criminal history at all, and that imprisoning them in ways that threaten their safety and health violates US Constitution. Advocates ask courts to demand, at their discretion, that the federal government release all detained immigrants, but especially those who are especially vulnerable from a medical point of view and families seeking asylum are held in detention centers.

What about those waiting in Mexico for asylum hearings in the United States?

The pandemic also affects tens of thousands of asylum seekers who have been forced to stay in Mexico awaiting a hearing on their asylum applications. On March 24, the federal government announced that all Asylum Seeker Hearings, which are scheduled for April 22, will be rescheduled. However, since many of these people live in temporary camps, shelters, and other unsafe living conditions, federal immigration agencies cannot simply send out new hearing notices. Asylum seekers waiting in Mexico will still need to arrive at the border checkpoint at their designated hearing time to receive notification of the new hearing date.

Forced to wait in mexico put these asylum seekers in a particularly vulnerable position. Their living conditions do not allow them to follow social distancing or hygiene guidelines, and they continue to fight crime, exploitation and food insecurity, awaiting immigration hearings. The Stay in Mexico program was declared unlawful by a federal appeals court, but the US Supreme Court allowed it to move forward pending final resolution of the trial. The next weeks and months will be especially painful and dangerous for those who are forced to remain in limbo beyond our borders.

How did travel restrictions imposed to combat the pandemic affect asylum seekers and other immigrants?

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government imposed travel bans on most visitors from China, Iran, and most of Europe, with very narrow exceptions for US citizens, legal permanent residents and their families, as well as non-citizens who must be national interests (e.g. medical professionals and coronavirus vaccine researchers).

Asylum seekers and refugees seeking protection from persecution in the United States will find that emergency coronavirus policies can make it difficult to access the asylum process. For example, as a result of an order from the Centers for Disease Control to close borders with Canada and Mexico for all minor persons, the Department of Homeland Security announced that customs and border officials will no longer handle migrants who cannot show themselves properly. US entry documentation. Asylum seekers requesting a credible fear interview — the first step to seeking asylum — will not be processed or assigned for an interview, and instead they will be returned the “last transit country,” that is, Mexico or Canada. This refusal to consider asylum claims is a serious concern, as our international obligations under the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the Convention against Torture prohibit us from returning persons to countries where they may be subjected to torture or harassment. (Since unaccompanied migrant children are particularly vulnerable, the United States will continue to process and support unaccompanied children.)

In response to this pandemic, most US embassies around the world have closed their doors, providing only emergency services to US citizens abroad. Because immediate relatives of asylum seekers and refugees must be interrogated by officials at US embassies before they are accepted into the United States, families of people who have already received asylum or refugee status may be separated for an even longer time. For relatives of petitioners and refugees who are still at risk of persecution in their own countries, this can be a particularly dangerous time.

The new Trump Administration rule of “public gathering” is intended to disadvantage immigrants who use public resources. How will this affect those who need tests or medical attention for COVID-19?

One of the most significant consequences of the government payment rule is the deterrent effect that the new rule has on people who do not actually obey it. Since the rule itself is quite complex, many are confused about the types of benefits that are excluded from consideration under state fees. People without immigration status, as a rule, do not have the right to federal benefits and, as a rule, do not have health insurance.

Although coronavirus tests are currently free under recent legislation, people who do not have access to health insurance may avoid testing or treating COVID-19 symptoms because of the significant personal costs that may be associated with unrelated tests or other treatment. Services.

What long-term impact do you have on our immigration system?

The long-term impact of this crisis on the immigration system will be monumental. Immigration courts – already dealing with record delays – will have to postpone thousands of hearings, which means that immigrants will have to wait many years before they spend their day in court. Many immigrants are likely to crash, especially those who do not have legal representation, who may not understand the legal notice they receive, or who cannot understand and follow a constantly changing judicial practice. It is hard to imagine how immigration judges will be able to manage their inflated lists in a manner that is consistent with due process if the government does not return to the Obama policies adopted in the Obama era and does not stop the process of expelling non-citizens with longstanding ties. The United States, whose deportation should not be a top priority.

Detained immigrants are at high risk for COVID-19

Expert discusses what COVID-19 means for immigration (2020, March 31)
retrieved April 1, 2020

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