Changes to the US immigration system during the corona pandemic

As the United States responds to the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration has made sweeping changes to the country’s immigration apparatus

Against the backdrop of the outbreak, the Trump administration is also trying to move forward with some of its most restrictionist policies that have struggled to be put into practice, including blocking entry to asylum seekers.

Citing the “unscreened” and “unvetted” people who come into the US across the southern border, President Donald Trump said last Friday that the border would be sealed off “mostly, and even beyond, but mostly during this global pandemic.”

Below is a list of the changes to the immigration system over recent days:

US and Mexico limit cross-border travel:  The US and Mexico announced March 20 they’re limiting nonessential travel across their shared border to curb movement during the pandemic. Exceptions include traveling for medical purposes or work, or to attend school, among others

The US also took the step of barring entry to migrants illegally crossing the southern border. Migrants who are apprehended at the border will either be quickly removed or repatriated to their origin countries. (US and Canada have also suspended most cross-border travel.)

ICE changes immigration enforcement operations: Immigration and Customs Enforcement it has temporarily adjusted its “enforcement posture;” now it will focus on those who pose a public safety risk and are “subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds.”

The agency will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, so individuals should not avoid seeking medical care over fears of enforcement.

DOJ closes more immigration courts, postpones hearings: The Justice Department closed an additional 10 immigration courts, spread across the country, through April 10, and postponed all hearings of cases of immigrants who are not in detention.

Refugee admissions paused: The United States paused refugee admissions till April 6. The move comes after the International Organization for Migration, which is in charge of booking refugees’ travel, and the UN refugee agency announced a suspension of resettlement travel. The agencies shared concerns in a statement last week, saying international travel “could increase the exposure of refugees to the virus.”

USCIS suspends in-person services: US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it is suspending its in-person services till April 1, including all interviews and naturalization ceremonies, to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

ICE reschedules in-person check-ins and pushes back timeline for recent arrivals: ICE notified congressional staffers that it will temporarily reschedule in-person appointments of immigrants who are not in detention to “minimize the impact” of coronavirus. The agency will also allow those recently released from the southern border to check in at 60 days, instead of 30 days.

ICE pauses social visitation at detention facilities; ICE said it ceased social visitation in all of its detention facilities. The agency had previously announced that it had put protocols in place, in accordance with guidance from the CDC, to protect staff and detainees.

Migrant children no longer placed in Washington state and California:  The Office of Refugee Resettlement, the federal agency tasked with the care of migrant children, temporarily stopped placing kids who arrive in the US without parents or guardians in shelters in California and Washington state, unless in limited circumstances. The Health and Human Services Department funds a network of more than 100 facilities where migrant children are cared for until they’re released to sponsors in the United States. The children are turned over to HHS after being taken into custody by the Department of Homeland Security.

Image courtesy of Photo courtesy The San Diego Union Tribune

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