12 changes to the US immigration system during the coronavirus pandemic

Washington (CNN) As the United States responds to the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration has made sweeping changes to the country’s immigration apparatus, altering daily operations and disrupting the lives of thousands.

In a little over a week, there have been a dozen changes, ranging from postponing immigration hearings to pausing deportation flights to certain countries and suspending refugee admissions. The tweaks to the system are being made incrementally, though rapidly, as the pandemic spreads across the country.

Against the backdrop of the coronavirus 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.President Donald Trump confirmed he’s planning to bar entry to migrants during a White House briefing Wednesday. “The answer’s yes,” Trump said when asked if he was planning to take that step, which he said would come “very soon,” adding, “Probably today.”Below is a list of the changes to the immigration system over recent days:ICE changes immigration enforcement operationsMarch 18: Immigrations and Customs Enforcement told congressional staffers that it has temporarily adjusted its “enforcement posture,” according to a memo obtained by CNN, marking a change in operations as a result of the pandemic. The agency said it will focus on those who pose a public safety risk and are “subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds.”Immigrant advocates have called on ICE to dial back operations amid the coronavirus outbreak, arguing that the agency has instilled fear in the immigrant community and might discourage some from seeking medical attention.The agency said in its memo to staffers that it will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, “except in the most extraordinary circumstances,” adding that individuals should not avoid seeking medical care over fears of enforcement.DOJ closes more immigration courts, postpones hearingsMarch 18: 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. The Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees the immigration courts, had previously made incremental changes, to the frustration of immigration judges, lawyers, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement prosecutors, who urged the administration to close courts for the safety of staff and immigrants.US and Canada suspend most cross-border travelMarch 18: United States and Canada announced plans to suspend nonessential travel between the two countries because of the pandemic. Trump tweeted: “We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our Northern Border with Canada to non-essential traffic. Trade will not be affected. Details to follow!”Refugee admissions pausedMarch 18: The United States paused refugee admissions. 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 this week, saying international travel “could increase the exposure of refugees to the virus.”The pause is expected to be in place from March 19 through April 6.ICE suspends some deportation flightsMarch 18: ICE told CNN that removal flights to Italy, China and South Korea have been suspended. While the situation is quickly evolving, however, ICE is continuing to deport immigrants. Prior to boarding, however, immigrants undergo a temperature screening. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher is referred to a medical provider, according to ICE’s website.USCIS suspends in-person servicesMarch 17: US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it’s suspending its in-person services, including all interviews and naturalization ceremonies, to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus. USCIS is responsible for administering the nation’s legal immigration system, including green cards, citizenship and asylum and refugee processing. It administers naturalization ceremonies across the country — one of the most public and cherished duties the agency carries out. The suspension will extend until at least April 1.ICE reschedules in-person check-ins and pushes back timeline for recent arrivalsMarch 17: 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.Read the entire article here:https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/18/politics/immigration-changes-coronavirus/index.html

Priscilla Alvarez