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Early Arrival: ICE Medical Staffer Tests Positive for COVID-19

Monday's Edition of Early Arrival: Another Shelter Worker Tests Positive for COVID-19 — Justice Department Employees Eager for Immigration Courts to Close — Mexico Border Closes and Asylum Ends

A member of the medical administrative staff at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Elizabeth, New Jersey, tested positive for COVID-19, the agency confirmed Friday.

The staffer was the second person at an ICE facility to test positive for the virus after one a guard at Bergen County Jail previously tested positive.

Immigration lawyers and advocates have been calling on ICE to release people being held in ICE detention, especially those who are immunocompromised, as fears rise about an outbreak of the highly contagious disease within ICE detention. Reuters

Local 

Another Shelter Worker Tests Positive for COVID-19

A staff member at a shelter that houses unaccompanied minors in Westchester County has tested positive for the coronavirus, Documented learned Friday. This marked the second case of a New York area shelter worker testing positive for the virus. Coronavirus has been spreading rapidly across the U.S., especially in New York and has raised fears as to what will happen if the virus spreads in immigration detention centers and shelters in the New York area that house unaccompanied minors. A source with knowledge of the matter told Documented that a staff member at Abbott House, a shelter in Irvington, New York, had tested positive for coronavirus and the shelter placed all exposed children in quarantine for 14 days. According to Reveal, in 2017 the shelter had a capacity of 35 unaccompanied minors. The New York Times reported that Mercy First, a shelter on Long Island, also had a staffer who tested positive for COVID-19. Read more at Documented

Detainee Recalls Haphazard COVID-19 Testing

An immigrant detained by ICE at Hudson County Correctional Facility said he was placed in isolation a week ago and tested for coronavirus with very little explanation. Only referred to as Nick, the detainee told The Daily News that he noticed nurses coughing as they came and went from the general population. He was removed from isolation two days later on Wednesday, again with no explanation, he recalled. Hudson County’s spokesman said some detainees came in contact with Legal Aid attorneys who were showing symptoms and were therefore tested for the virus. Nick said that there was no social distancing practiced with the jail. New York Daily News

Roxham Road May be Closed with Rest of Canadian Border

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would begin turning back asylum seekers from the U.S. as the two nations prepare to close their border to most non-essential travel. Trudeau insisted it was a temporary measure due to the “coronavirus crisis.” Since 2017, 54,739 asylum seekers have crossed outside regular border points to make asylum claims in Canada, namely at Roxham Road in upstate New York. This due to a loophole in the safe third country agreement that allows people who make it onto Canadian soil to make claims. The New York Times

National

Justice Department Employees Eager for Immigration Courts to Close

The Justice Department has been at war with the National Association of Immigration Judges over its decision to allow some immigration proceedings to continue during the coronavirus pandemic. Court hearings were reduced last week after increased pressure from the NAIJ, immigration lawyers and even ICE prosecutors. One Denver judge has been diagnosed with COVID-19, raising fears for prosecutors who shared the courtroom with the judge. In New York, the court was notified that three attorneys had symptoms of the virus and one had been exposed to someone who was positive. The court failed to notify their employees about the letter. ProPublica

Mexican Man Becomes 10th Person to Die in ICE Custody

A 42-year-old Mexican man became the 10th person to die in ICE custody this fiscal year on Saturday, according to BuzzFeed News. In comparison, eight people died in ICE custody in the entire fiscal year 2019. The man was in custody at a Texas detention center before he was hospitalized. The agency has come under intense scrutiny for the quality of medical care afforded to the immigrants in its custody. The agency is also in the midst of allaying concerns about a coronavirus outbreak in its detention centers. BuzzFeed News

ICE Requiring Lawyers to Bring Their Own Protective Gear

ICE is requiring that lawyers bring vinyl gloves, N-95 or surgical masks and eye protection while visiting any detention facility, despite a national shortage of all of this equipment. The new rule was published Sunday by ICE on its COVID-19 page. The American Immigration Lawyers Association and National Association of Immigration Judges called the new rule impossible due to national shortages. Lawyers on Twitter criticized the rule as unconstitutional while others complained they were being denied access to their clients even when they were wearing the correct equipment. The Miami Herald

ICE Has Struggled to Contain Contagious Diseases in the Past

ICE has struggled to contain communicable illnesses among its detainees for years, an analysis by ProPublica of death reports found. Concerns continue to swirl around the agency’s capacity to handle a potential COVID-19 outbreak among detainees. ProPublica reviewed more than 70 reports detailing the circumstances around detainee deaths over the last decade and found medical staff often don’t follow strict rules for testing contagious diseases. In six cases there were failures to address communicable disease risks that contributed to the deaths of immigrants. The crowded rooms in ICE detention also make social distancing difficult. ProPublica

Construction of Border Wall Continues Despite Coronavirus

The Trump administration is continuing construction of the wall on the U.S.—Mexico border despite the coronavirus shutting down most activity around the country. This week, Customs and Border Protection announced plans to build more than 150 miles of wall in Arizona, New Mexico and California. A CBP spokesman said wall construction has not been affected despite construction crews working on the wall most likely having difficulty practicing social distancing. Workers often commute together from states around the country to come to the border and work on the wall, where they stay together at local hotels, and motels. The Guardian

Washington — Mexico Border Closes and Asylum Ends, DOJ Makes Power Grab, Undocumented Immigrants Can Get Tested, Trump Says

President Trump announced on Friday that the U.S. and Mexico had agreed to restrict non-essential travel across their shared border in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus. Trump further added that he would be using emergency powers to block all migrants from crossing the border illegally. 

In practice, this means the U.S. will deport anyone caught crossing the border between ports of entry, including those seeking asylum. Under the terms of this agreement, Mexico will accept Central Americans who will be turned away. There are already thousands of migrants living in camps on the border, including a 2,000 person camp in Matamoros, Mexico.

In addition the Trump administration will temporarily block all migrants from seeking asylum at legal points of entry. On Saturday, Border Patrol had already setup tents where it was screening migrants and sending them back to Mexico immediately. Non-Central American migrants will be taken directly to airfields, where ICE will deport them. 

This marks the first time since the asylum system was created 40 years ago that the U.S. has shut down access to asylum along the border. The ban also applies to the northern border. Some onlookers argued the shutdown was an attempt by Trump use the spread of the coronavirus as to achieve one of his policy goals. The Trump administration had previously tried to ban asylum between points of entry, but was blocked by federal courts. 

There are growing fears that there could be an outbreak of the virus among migrants waiting to enter the U.S. and living in camps with squalid conditions due to the administration’s Remain in Mexico program. But currently, there are far more cases in the U.S. than in Mexico or anywhere in Central America — this could be disputed by testing availability. So there are also fears someone will come from the U.S. and spread the virus into migrant communities along the border. The New York Times

The Justice Department asked Congress for a range of new powers that would allow prosecutors to detain people indefinitely in the wake of the pandemic. Among their requests was asking Congress to change the law to explicitly state that people with COVID-19 could not be included among those who may apply for asylum. Additionally, it requested that people who are subject to the presidential proclamation suspending and limiting entry into the U.S. also be ineligible for asylum. The proclamation all but bans asylum in the U.S. from everywhere. Politico

Trump said on Sunday that undocumented immigrants should be able to get tested for coronavirus without fear of arrest or deportation. Vice President Mike Pence said CBP will not target emergency rooms or health clinics to search for undocumented immigrants. The HillRights groups are pushing for the COVID-19 relief bill being debated in Congress to include immigrant families. As it stands, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act would exclude immigrants from the right to receive free testing as well as from large tax rebates that are being discussed. Human Rights Watch

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