IJC News

COVID-19 Updates from IJC

April 21, 2020

It was only a matter of time before this administration would blame immigrants to deflect from its inept handling of this pandemic. This administration is using the greatest health crisis of our lifetimes to fulfill their authoritarian anti-immigrant agenda. The anxiety and uncertainty that this callous late-night tweet creates for our clients and communities is devastating. New rationales will be found to keep this and every other anti-immigrant ban going, and we will fight it every step of the way.

April 15, 2020

The COVID-19 crisis has revealed for many people a truth we have always known: that immigrants are essential to American life, yet remain unprotected. 

Over the last few weeks, IJC Fellows have continued to advocate for their clients, demanding that the Department of Homeland Security release high-risk detained immigrants and implement policies to avoid the spread of the virus. Fellows are meeting with prospective and current clients telephonically to represent their interests and submitting filings to meet critical deadlines and postpone court appearances.

COVID-19 does not discriminate, but its impact certainly does. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) that was signed by the president completely excludes vulnerable immigrant communities from key relief policies. Along with our partners, we continue to advocate on behalf of our clients and their communities, calling on Congress to ensure that any future bill addressing this health crisis protects the well-being and future of ALL families and communities.

Amid this uncertain time, we have reassured our Fellows that IJC’s commitments to our current classes of Fellows as well as the incoming class of 2020 remain steadfast. Our work is more important today than ever before, and there is an urgency to do whatever we can to continue this vital work. While we do not know what health guidelines will be in place one month or three months from now, it is our intention to honor our commitments to our Fellows and host organizations.

It is your incredible support that has allowed us to follow through on this commitment. Your generosity can continue to ensure that immigrant families get the quality representation they so desperately need. If you are able to support, please consider making a gift to IJC at this time.

Below we have collected some news and updates that may be of interest.

March 25, 2020

Over the last week, we have mobilized to meet the needs of our Fellows, staff, and clients. This is an unprecedented time, and no one is operating ‘business as usual’.

Together, we are stronger, which is why we continue to collaborate closely with our incredible partners and allies to advocate that the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) stop all hearings for detained immigrants, cease interior enforcement, and release individuals in ICE custody.
At present, immigration officials are requiring that lawyers bring their own protective medical gear if they want to visit their clients inside detention centers. On March 23, EOIR announced that Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP) hearings through April 22 will be rescheduled. However, this also means asylum seekers will be stuck in limbo in crowded and dangerous conditions at the border created by the dangerous MPP policies.
In this uncertain time, we must fight harder than ever. Below are some examples of how IJC and our Fellows are working to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

  • We are working with our partners to advocate for common-sense policies regarding the operations of immigration agencies and adjudication of cases during the COVID-19 emergency. We are pushing for blanket extensions of deadlines, rescheduling adjudications with adequate notice, liberal granting of continuances, and waiving requirements that are difficult to produce amid the current crisis, such as original photos.

  • IJC Justice Fellow Thomas Scott-Railton is working on litigation with his host organization Bronx Defenders and the ACLU to seek emergency relief for people in ICE detention. “ICE is continuing to snatch people out of the safety of their homes, including people who have disabilities that put them at greater risks from the spread of coronavirus, and placing them in these jails.” Learn more.

  • With advocates and service providers who work with survivors across NY, IJC has joined our partners in demanding that ICE stop using intimate partner violence to justify raids, end policing and release detainees. Learn more.

  • Justice Fellow Paloma Guerrero was quoted in a joint letter to Nevada’s ICE Field Office Director, demanding the release of individuals in ICE detention and prioritizing high-risk populations. “The question is not if we can prevent COVID-19 from entering ICE detention facilities in Nevada, it is how we can minimize its impact on individuals when it happens.”

March 16, 2020

During this constantly evolving COVID-19 pandemic, the health and wellbeing of our Fellows, staff, and clients is our top priority.

As of today, all IJC staff and in-placed Fellows are working remotely. We have shared this policy with our partners, and many have implemented similar protocols. Our Fellows are meeting with clients over the phone or video chat when necessary.  

Though non-detained master calendar hearings at immigration courts throughout the country have been rescheduled, individual hearings and the detained immigration court docket are still going forward, putting respondents, their legal representatives and court personnel at risk.  USCIS appointments are going forward unless the applicant for immigration benefits or legal representative is ill, likewise exposing people to undue risk of contagion in crowded waiting rooms. Many of our Fellows are seeking urgent adjournments, and we are keeping our Fellows up to date with information as it comes in.

At a time like this, compassion and kindness are paramount, and we are truly grateful to our incredible network of partners for their collaboration and leadership.

Below we have collected major immigration related updates issued in response to the pandemic.

  • EOIR has canceled all non-detained master calendar hearings but individual hearings and the detained docket are proceeding as usual. Learn more about court status and closures here.
  • The National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ), the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 511 (the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Professionals Union), and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) have released a joint statement calling on all immigration courts across the country to close to protect the health and safety of the Immigration Judges, the Immigration Court staff, and the public.
  • ICE has suspended social visitation of all its detention facilities until further notice in order to mitigate the potential for transmission of COVID-19. However, per their website, “agents continue daily enforcement operations to make criminal and civil arrests.”

  • USCIS clarified that the Public Charge rules do not restrict access to testing, screening, or treatment of communicable diseases like COVID-19.
  • Updates from USCIS can be found here.

While COVID-19 has created a lot of uncertainty, we wanted to share a story that may help brighten your day.

First year Justice Fellow Lesly Santos recently had a major victory when her client was granted asylum! Her supervisor at Catholic Charities Community Services (CCCS), IJC alum John Travis, shared the news of Lesly’s case with IJC.

John said the case was on the FAMU docket, “which most attorneys would have written it off as unwinnable.” FAMU stands for “family unit;” the docket was introduced last year to prioritize the adjudication of deportation cases of recently arrived parents with children, usually families seeking asylum.  Under the guise of “judicial efficiency,” these often-complex cases are fast-tracked and routinely not given the attention or time that they require.

After the hearing, the Immigration Judge made a point to ask Lesly a few questions. Here is the conversation:

Judge: How long have you been an IJC Fellow?

Lesly: Since September.

Judge: Only since September? How many merits hearings have you done?

Lesly: This was my first.

Judge: You did an incredible job. Obviously, I’m not your supervisor or anything, but I want to let you know that you made my role as a judge very clear. I see a lot of these cases and this is one of the best prepared cases I’ve seen. With so many people applying for asylum, we want everyone to be able to present their case. That’s what this is about. Please continue to prepare every case as thoroughly as you prepared this one. 

We are so proud of Lesly – and all our Fellows who are doing exceptional work during an increasingly difficult time.