Immigration Changes and Closures as of March 2020
Many crucial services have been either changed or interrupted due to prevention measures to contain the virus's spread. Many such changes have also impacted the U.S. Immigration System, with changes or interruptions at USCIS (United States Citizenship & Immigration Service), ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), CBP (Customs and Border Enforcement) and many more agencies. Shown below is a summarized list of the interruptions and changes we have seen so far. Please be aware the information within this blog is subject to change, and should not be solely relied on when making any legal decisions. Please contact your attorney or your local court, or agency to confirm if your particular interview or case has been rescheduled.
E.O.I.R. (Executive Office for Immigration Review) (Immigration Court)
As of March 18th, 2020 all Non-Detained immigration court cases scheduled up to April 10th, 2020 will be continued to a different date and time.
This means that anyone who has an immigration hearing, whether it is a Master or Individual Hearing, will have their hearings rescheduled to a different date and time. This includes Seattle Immigration Court.
There is no national guidance from EOIR yet in regards to Detained Immigration Courts. If you or a loved one is in a detained immigration hearing, I advise you check the following link to see the status of your local detained immigration court: https://www.justice.gov/eoir/eoir-operational-status-during-coronavirus-pandemic
As of March 20th, 2020, the Tacoma Immigration Court at the Northwest ICE Processing Center has issued the following guidance:
All scheduled immigration hearings shall be conducted by video conference in one of two video conference court rooms. Witnesses, family, and community members may attend a hearing in the same video conference courtroom as the Respondent, so long as no more than six people are present in the courtroom (this includes the ICE attorney, baliff, and Respondent himself). Requests to continue a hearing may be filed with the court if the Respondent's attorney or witnesses are unable to appear due to health concerns.
The Tacoma Immigration Court will continue to operate even as the Seattle Immigration Court remains closed. However, hearings will be done over video conference, and it seems as if individuals may request their hearings continued if they do not wish to proceed over video conference, or if their witnesses or attorneys cannot attend.
U.S.C.I.S. (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service)
As of March 20th, 2020, USCIS has suspended routine in-person services until at least April 1st, 2020. All in person interviews set in between March 18 to April 1 will be rescheduled. USCIS staff will continue to perform duties that do not involve contact with the public. However, USCIS will provide emergency services for limited situations. This means that anyone who has had an interview with USCIS scheduled for a time in between March 18th - April 1st will have that interview rescheduled for another date. These include interviews for green cards, naturalization, asylum, family visas, and more.
U.S. Department of State
Effective March 18th, 2020 the the Department of State is temporarily suspending routine visa services at all U.S. Embassies and Consulates. Embassies and consulates will cancel all routine immigrant and non-immigrant visa appointments as of March 20, 2020. As resources allow, embassies and consulates will continue to provide emergency and mission critical visa services. Our overseas missions will resume routine visa services as soon as possible but are unable to provide a specific date at this time. This does not affect the Visa Waiver Program. This means that all interviews for both immigrant visas (such as K-1 Fiancee Visa, IR-1& CR-1 Spouse of a U.S. Citizen, F-2A Family Members of Green Card Holders) and non-immigrant visas (such as B-1 Business Visitor, B-2 Tourist, H-1B Employee Visa for Specialty Occupations) have been cancelled and will be rescheduled.
I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)
Effective March 18th, 2020 ICE has stated it will focus enforcement on public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds. For those individuals who do not fall into those categories, ERO will exercise discretion to delay enforcement actions until after the crisis or utilize alternatives to detention, as appropriate.
ICE has also stated it is committing to not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors' offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Removals of Detainees have been suspended to the following countries: Italy, China, and South Korea.
ICE has also stated it will temporarily permit the filing of Applications for Stay of Deportation through the mail accompanied by money orders, certified funds, or requests for fee waivers.
ICE will limit the acceptance of bonds to locations with "bond windows" or other appropriate barriers that will limit exposure to staff. Generally, only the individual appearing to post the bonds will be permitted to enter the office. Anyone accompanying such individuals, including children accompanied by another adult, will be asked by security not to enter the building.
Although ICE indicates it will focus it's enforcement on criminal aliens in it's statement, the tweet from Ken Cucinelli seems to show that enforcement and arrests will occur regardless of any criminal history. ICE is stating that it will allow for the mailing of Motions for Stay of Deportation, which will mean that individuals who are requesting a temporary stop of their deportation will no longer have to show up to their local ICE office with their application, but can instead mail it in. Source: https://www.ice.gov/covid19
ICE CHECK INs: So far there has not been an official national statement on what individuals who have ICE check-ins should be doing. There have been some cancellations in various cities. In Washington State, there has been a local announcement that individuals should call the main line of the Seattle ICE Office on their check in date, ask to speak to their designated officer, and tell them they are checking in. If they get a voicemail, the individual should leave their Alien number and their phone number.
*NOTE* Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli has tweeted information which contradicts some portions of the above statement from ICE:
C.B.P. (Customs and Border Patrol)
As of March 18th, 2020 CBP will temporarily suspend operations at Trusted Traveler Program enrollment centers nationwide from March 19 until at least May 1, 2020. CBP is taking this precautionary measure to minimize the exposure of CBP personnel and the public.
This temporary closure includes all public access Global Entry enrollment centers, NEXUS enrollment centers, SENTRI enrollment centers, and FAST enrollment locations.
As of March 20th, 2020 the Washington Examiner reports that CBP has issuing voluntary return to Mexican citizens who illegally cross the southern border in an effort to avoid detaining individuals during this time.
Although there is no official report from CBP on this, this article is suggesting that CBP is no longer issuing expedited removal orders to Mexican citizens to deport them at the border, and is instead issuing voluntary returns to Mexico to avoid detaining people during this period.
Please note the information on this page is subject to change and should not be relied upon to make a legal decision which impacts your current immigration case. Contact your attorney or local court or government agency to confirm closure and appointment status. The American Immigration Lawyer's Association also has an updated list of immigration impacts at the following link: https://www.aila.org/advo-media/issues/all/covid-19.