The coronavirus pandemic is causing anxiety throughout the United States, and especially in the immigrant community. Many people have contacted our office with concerns about ICE enforcement during this time, particularly concerns about the choice between risking detention by missing an appointment or hearing, and risking their health by going out in public when they don’t have to.
In this blog post, we will answer some of the common questions we are hearing. If you have any questions about ICE enforcement and coronavirus, please contact our law office.
If you are a participant in an alternative-to-detention (ATD) program, you are ordinarily required to make in-person check-ins, and may be subject to home visits. In light of COVID-19, ICE has suspended in-person office visits and home visits. Instead, check-ins will be by telephone or other electronic means. If you don’t know how you are supposed to be checking in, contact your local field office.
If you have a scheduled check-in by phone, you should make the call as you have been directed to. If the check-in was intended to be an in-person office visit that is now impossible due to COVID-19, you should call your local ICE field office.
Unfortunately, staffing may be minimal at some offices and when you call, you may not immediately be able to speak with someone. Leave a message if possible, and keep trying. Make sure your message includes your name, phone number, and A-number.
The Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) is a monitoring program for immigrants in deportation proceedings who have been released from detention. If you are in ISAP, it is important not to do anything that would suggest you are not complying with the program.
If you have a scheduled in-person appointment, COVID-19 precautions mean that meeting will not happen. However, you still have to check in! If your case specialist has not told you what to do, don’t wait for your scheduled appointment time to come and go. Call your case specialist before your scheduled appointment time.
Because of staffing issues due to the coronavirus, you may not reach someone the first time you try. Leave a message with your name, contact phone number, and your A-number. Keep trying to get through. Make a note every time you call of the date and time of your call, whether you left a message, and so on. Your case specialist should get back to you, but in case there is a problem, it will be good to have a specific record of your efforts to check in.
If you have COVID-19 symptoms, you should still do everything possible to comply with telephone or electronic check-ins. If you are too ill to do so, a family member, or better still, an immigration attorney, may be able to call to explain the situation.
Only a medical professional should tell you how to seek treatment if you have COVID-19 symptoms. Most hospitals and doctor offices prefer that you not seek care face-to-face until you have been advised to do so by a doctor. Call your doctor or local health department to find out if you should go to the hospital.
If you are ill enough that a doctor tells you to seek care at the hospital, you should do so. ICE is not supposed to be conducting enforcement activities at hospitals and other medical facilities, except in rare cases. You should not risk your life or health because you are afraid of being detained.
As of this writing, there have been nearly 100 cases of COVID-19 documented among ICE detainees and over 20 cases among employees of detention centers. That number, of course, is likely to grow. Hundreds of detainees have been released from facilities to ATD programs in areas that have been hit hard by the coronavirus. Older and medically-compromised detainees who are less of a flight risk and at greater risk of infection are more likely to be released.
ICE also says that it is taking other safety precautions, such as keeping detainees in their cells rather than in common areas and increasing social distancing. However, there is a limited amount that can be done in detention facilities to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
U.S. Senators Booker and Jayapal have introduced the Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together Act. This proposed act would require ICE to release detainees who do not pose a risk to public safety. However, the Act faces obstacles to passage, so its future is uncertain.
If you have more questions about ICE enforcement and the coronavirus pandemic, please contact our law office.