Ten things to know about the government’s COVID-19 immigration actions to date
FELICIA J. PERSAUD | 3/26/2020, midnight
The Trump administration has announced several immigration actions as the country copes—belatedly—with the COVID-19 pandemic. And, of course, Donald Trump and his cohorts seemed almost gleeful Friday that they will now be able to enact some of its more restrictive policies yet.
1: Immediate repatriation and asylum seeker ban
The U.S. on Friday, March 20, took the step of barring entry to migrants illegally crossing the southern border as well as blocking entry to asylum seekers. The Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf says the DHS will now suspend entry of all migrants “seeking to enter the U.S. without proper travel documentation” at both the northern and southern border. And immigrants who are apprehended at the border will either be quickly removed or repatriated to their country of origin. As Donald Trump gleefully put it: the border will be sealed off “mostly, and even beyond, but mostly during this global pandemic.” Anyone without documents along the southwest border would immediately be removed without due process.
2: Global visa suspension
As of March 18, the U.S. State Department announced it has canceled all routine immigrant and non-immigrant visa appointments, effectively prohibiting new authorizations to travel to the United States. Only emergency appointments will be allowed.
3: Some, not all, deportation halted
So far, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (USICE), has said it will not cease arrests and deportations but will instead 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, the agency says it will exercise discretion to delay enforcement actions until after the COVID-19 crisis or utilize alternatives to detention, as appropriate.
ICE has also not indicated they intend to pause flights. On its website, the agency says it’s still detaining individuals, but they are using different measures to keep both detainees and immigration agents safe. It’s also screening detainees for a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher before they are placed on board planes and sent back to their country of origin.
4: USCIS in-person interviews suspended
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has suspended all routine in-person services including biometrics, legalization and naturalization interviews as well as citizenship swearing-ins until at least April 1.
5: ICE halts social visits to detainees
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency has announced a halt to social visits by family members, attorneys, advocates or anyone else to detainees at its national detention facilities. This leaves many detainees scrambling to come up with money to call their loved ones.
6: H-2A and H-2B visas
The State Department has, however, resumed processing H-2A and H-2B visas, but this is limited to returning workers who can have a visa interview waived.
7: Pause on refugee admissions
The government has now paused all refugee admissions through April 6.
8: Some immigration courts closed
On March 18, the Executive Office of Immigration Review announced it had postponed all hearings for non-detained immigrants and closed 10 additional immigration courts.
9: In person check-ins canned
As of March 17, 2020, the U.S. ICE has now suspended in-person check-ins by immigrants considered a “low priority” for removal and says it would give newly released immigrants at the border 60 days to check-in rather than 30.
10: Unaccompanied children
The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) says it has stopped placing unaccompanied alien children (UACs) in homes or shelters in California or Washington beginning March 10, 2020.
The writer is publisher of NewsAmericasNow