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Early Arrival: Coronavirus Chaos Continues In New York’s Immigration Courts

Wednesday's Edition of Early Arrival: Public Charge Adds to Coronavirus Confusion — ACLU and NWIRP Sues to get Detainees Released in Washington — Trump Administration Seeks to Turn Away All Asylum Seekers

Judges and attorneys in New York’s immigration courts continued to hold individual hearings and detained master calendar hearings on Monday despite pleas from advocates, defense attorneys, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement prosecutors and immigration judges alike as COVID-19 spreads. Still, the courts did get a temporary reprieve when much of the courts’ technological infrastructure crashed during the day. With no way to continue the cases, the judges had to adjourn. 

The National Association of Immigration Judges has spent weeks calling on the Justice Department to cease all immigration court activity to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, seeing as immigration court hearings are sometimes packed with immigrants and their families. A full court shutdown has precedent: During the 2019 government shutdown, all immigration cases were put on hold. 

Despite the outcry, the Executive Office for Immigration Review remains resistant to shutting down the courts entirely. Judges are reducing the number of people allowed in courtrooms to just attorneys and their clients, but attorneys still have to travel to the court to file paperwork outside of hearings. The EOIR did cancel non-detained master calendar hearings, but advocates say the message was delivered through a piece of paper tacked to a bulletin board at 26 Federal Plaza. Read more at Documented.


Public Charge Adds to Coronavirus Confusion Among Undocumented Immigrants

The Trump administration’s new public charge rule struck fear in New York City’s immigrant communities when it was first announced, causing noticeable drops in health clinic attendance. That could’ve proved exceptionally consequential as COVID-19 spreads through the city and world. But on Friday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that tests and treatment related to COVID-19 would not be included in any public charge determinations. Still, rumors are spreading through social media and now many immigrants are afraid of coming forward to get tested, leading some public health experts to fear further spread of the virus. Read more at Documented.

De Blasio Suspends E-Bike Crackdown

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will suspend the NYPD’s crackdown on e-bike delivery workers as the city shuts down and all restaurants are closed to diners. “We will be suspending enforcement while restaurants are take-out and delivery only,” said City Hall spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein. De Blasio has long been criticized for his feud with e-bike delivery workers, whom De Blasio’s administration consider a danger to themselves and pedestrians. Bikers and advocates complain that the NYPD unfairly targets them with fines and confiscations. The decision came after Brooklyn Council Member Carlos Menchaca and Manhattan Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez wrote a letter calling for the crackdown’s suspension. Streetsblog

New York Immigration Lawyers Heighten Tactics to Get Immigrants out of Detention

Attorneys at Brooklyn Defender Services filed more than a dozen bond requests with ICE in recent days so detainees can be released pending their court hearings as coronavirus spreads. The attorneys are also filing habeas corpus petitions demanding detainees at a high risk for the virus are released, namely those who are older than 60, who have diabetes, HIV, mental illness or respiratory problems. “I am very hopeful that if ICE is going to turn a blind eye to this situation, that they’re not going to take this seriously, that the federal courts are going to force them to respond and do something,” said Andrea Saenz, an attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services. WNYC


ACLU and NWIRP Sue to Get Detainees Released in Washington

The American Civil Liberties Union is seeking the release of a group of immigrant detainees who have diseases and neurological conditions to protect them from the spread of coronavirus. The legal advocacy organization filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington alongside the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, and is seeking the immediate release of nine immigrants in custody at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. The facility is privately run by Geo Group. BuzzFeed News

Remain in Mexico Hearings Heighten Coronavirus Risk

On Sunday night, the Justice Department announced it would cancel some hearings in immigration court until April 10. The new policy did now, however, cancel the hearings related to the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as Remain in Mexico. As a result, immigrants were crowded into a court on Monday to have their cases heard, putting everyone at risk for contracting and spreading coronavirus. In turn, since immigrants subject to MPP are staying in Mexico, their cases heightened the risk of the disease being spreading to the country where there have so far been few cases. The Intercept

ICE Continues Arrests Despite Coronavirus Pandemic

A day after California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered people in the state to commit to social distancing, a group of ICE agents made their way through the city trying to arrest targets. The agents even carried N95 respirator masks in case of potential coronavirus exposure. More than 45 organizations signed a letter this week calling on the Department of Homeland Security to stop arresting and deporting immigrants while the coronavirus pandemic worsens. ICE said it would take precautions to guard against disease spread, but arrests would continue. The Los Angeles Times

Transgender Woman Claims Sexual Assault in Detention

A transgender woman seeking asylum says she was sexually assaulted and harassed while being detained at an Arizona detention facility with men for nine months. Alejandra Alor Reyes, a Mexican citizen, says she is suffering from PTSD and should be released on humanitarian grounds while she awaits an appeal in her asylum case, according to the ACLU of Arizona, Trans Queer Pueblo and Detention Watch Network. Reyes says she fled Mexico after suffering abuse and discrimination because she is transgender. Shortly before she asked asylum, she was kidnapped and beaten and part of her thumb was cut off, advocates say. She asked for asylum June and has been in custody ever since. Associated Press

USCIS to Close Offices Around the Country

U.S. immigration offices around the country will close as an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus. The move, which will postpone naturalization ceremonies and citizenship and asylum interviews, represent the largest impact to the immigration system yet as a result of the pandemic. Advocates and lawyers have called for the closure for weeks, saying the crowded offices are a breeding ground for the disease. BuzzFeed News

Washington — Trump Administration Seeks to Turn Away All Asylum Seekers, Guatemala Cancels Asylum Agreement

Despite most of the cases of coronavirus occurring in Asia and Europe, the Trump administration plans to turn back all asylum seekers and foreigners trying to cross the southwestern border illegally to avoid a coronavirus spread through detention facilities and among Border Patrol agents, administration officials told The New York Times. Officials said the southern border’s ports of entry would remain open to American citizens, green card holders and foreigners “with proper documentation.” Ports of entry would be open to commercial traffic as well. 

Under the new rule, which is set to be announced in the next 48 hours, Border Patrol agents would immediately turn back who tries to cross the southern border between legal ports of entry. Asylum seekers would not be held for any length of time in an American facility, nor would they be given due process. Anyone caught would be driven to the nearest port of entry and returned to Mexico. 

There are currently 82 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Mexico, compared to 5,600 in the United States, and yet Trump still maintains the idea of a border shutdown. The United States and Canada reportedly also plan to issue a joint statement suspending non-essential travel between the two countries. The New York TimesGuatemala became the first Central American country to block deportation flights from the United States in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The country had an agreement with the United States to take in asylum seekers who had traveled to the southern border by foot and had not applied for asylum in other Central American countries before the U.S., and the U.S. had sent Guatemala about 900 asylum seekers so far. Guatemala’s ministry of foreign affairs announced that all deportation flights would be paused “as a precautionary measure” while additional health screening processes were created. The Los Angeles Times

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