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Early Arrival: New Jersey Detainee Tests Positive for COVID-19

Wednesday's Edition of Early Arrival: NJ Detainees Asked for Coronavirus Protections, Got Nothing — ICE Calls for 45,000 Masks While Country’s Supply Dwindles — White House Postpones But Doesn't Cancel Remain in Mexico Hearing

An immigrant detainee in New Jersey has become the first person in ICE detention to test positive for the new coronavirus in the U.S. The 31-year-old Mexican national is being held at Bergen County Jail, where last week county officials reported a correctional officer had also tested positive.

Advocates, medical experts and former Department of Homeland Security officials have called for ICE to release detainees who are most at risk of contracting COVID-19, including the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

“The individual was sent out for medical evaluation at Hackensack-Meridian Health University Medical Center after displaying symptoms on Monday and declared presumptive positive by their rapid response test later that evening,” the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. BuzzFeed News

Local

New York Immigration Court Staffer Tests Positive for COVID-19

The Varick Street immigration court was temporarily closed after a court staffer tested positive for COVID-19, the Department of Justice announced late on Monday. Earlier that day, the National Association of Immigration Judges announced a judge had been diagnosed with pneumonia and tested for COVID-19. This announcement only furthered fears among ICE attorneys, who have to attend in-person hearings at the court even as the new coronavirus has shut down much of the city. An ICE attorney at the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor in Newark, New Jersey, also tested positive for COVID-19. The Executive Office of Immigration review “just wants to, no matter what, push forward with case completions at the cost of anything and everything,” Ginnine Fried, an ICE prosecutor in New York City who represents a union of ICE attorneys, told Documented. A letter from AFGE Local 511, NAIJ and the American Immigration Lawyers Association called on the Justice Department to close all 57 immigration courts across the country that remain open. Read more at Documented.

As Coronavirus Threat Loomed, Detainee Says NJ Jail Made No Changes

Shortly before the Hudson County Correctional Facility announced it had two confirmed cases of the new coronavirus within its inmate population, immigrant detainees in one wing of the jail passed around a petition. They had heard about the spread of COVID-19 on TV, but guards were still bringing in detainees off the street into the dorm, one former detainee explained. The petition asked them to stop. But “the officer’s routines and procedures never changed” beyond hanging up a sign asking detainees to wash their hands, Alberto, a recent detainee at Hudson County, said. Read more at Documented

Language School Students Could Lose Status

Students at the LISMA Language Center in Midtown Manhattan were recently given an unexpected and difficult choice: ICE had decertified that LISMA center from its Student and Exchange Visitor Program, and they’d have to either transfer to a new one by April 14, change visas or leave the U.S. Teachers for the school have since said they’ve been fired, while former students say leaders of the school stalled their attempts to find new places to learn. This major lapse put all the former students’ immigration statuses in peril as New York is closing down over coronavirus spread. THE CITY

National

ICE Calls for 45,000 Masks While Country’s Supply Dwindles

The U.S. can’t even come up with enough N95 masks for medical professionals treating the coronavirus outbreak, and yet ICE is asking for 45,000 of them. The agency says it needs the masks as part of “standard employee protective equipment (PPE) for all law enforcement officers” — the agency has continued to conduct house arrests even as COVID-19 danger looms. The requests say masks will go to all 26 of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations field offices within the next 30 days. VICE News

Immigration Court Backlog Continues to Rise

The immigration court backlog has now risen to 1.1 million cases as of the end of February 2020, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. At the beginning of President Trump’s term, there were 542,411 pending cases. Now, including inactive pending cases, the current backlog is over 1.4 million. Most non-detained court hearings have since been cancelled for the foreseeable future, only fueling the ride even further. Of all the counties in the U.S., Queens County has the third largest number of residents waiting for hearings, while Kings County has the fifth. TRAC

ICE Detainees Put in Isolation for Medical Reasons, Document Shows

Multiple ICE detainees have been put in isolation for medical reasons, according to an internal Department of Homeland Security report obtained by The Nation. The report, which is dated March 19, states that ICE’s Health Services Corps isolated nine detainees and that it was monitoring 24 more in 10 ICE facilities across the country. The document does not specify which illness these individuals are being monitored for, but the document is titled “DHS National Operations Center COVID-19 Placemat,” suggesting a coronavirus connection. The document also says U.S. Customs and Border Protection is working to convert several facilities into quarantine centers. The Nation

Immigration Judges Stay Home Over Coronavirus Threat

Immigration judges in New York and San Francisco stayed home from work on Tuesday as the union announced a judge in Denver was showing symptoms of COVID-19 and that an attorney in Atlanta had tested positive. On Tuesday, officials temporarily shut immigration offices across the country down because of the virus. Still, officials are resisting calls from ICE and immigration attorneys and judges alike to fully shut the courts down. BuzzFeed News

U.S. Dismantles Asylum Process Over CoronavirusIn response to the rapid spread of the coronavirus, the U.S. has closed the southern border to all asylum seekers. Analysts say this is the first time since the current asylum system was created 40 years ago that the U.S. fully shut down access to its program along the border. Some view the president’s actions as an attempt to use a global pandemic as a vehicle to further his political goals and attack the asylum system. Canada also shut its borders to asylum seekers over the coronavirus spread. The New York Times

Washington — White House Postpones But Doesn’t Cancel Remain in Mexico Hearings, Justice Department Calls for Extraordinary Changes to Immigration Law

The Trump administration is postponing all hearings for its “Remain in Mexico” policy, which forces all asylum seekers to return Mexico while they await the conclusion of their court hearings. Hearings set through April 22 will be rescheduled, the Executive Office for Immigration Review announced Monday. The Remain in Mexico policy, officially called the Migrant Protection Protocols, will not be canceled overall.

Any individual with a hearing date through April 22 must present themselves at the designated point of entry on the scheduled date “to receive a tear sheet and hearing notice containing their new hearing dates,” the EOIR said. The office is “deeply committed to ensuring that individuals ‘have their day in court’ while also ensuring the health and safety of aliens, our frontline officers, immigration court professionals, and our citizens,” it said in a statement.

The decision contrasts the administration’s earlier insistence that blocking the program would create a “rush to the border.” Earlier this month, the Supreme Court said the policy could stay in effect while the MPP was challenged in the lower courts. CNNIn draft legislation submitted last week, the Justice Department asked Congress to allow President Trump or his successors to eliminate legal protections for asylum seekers. The proposal — which will likely be dismissed by lawmakers – would let presidents block immigrants from being eligible for applying for asylum. It would also let presidents exempt immigrants from a domestic legal rule that prevents the federal government from sending them to countries where they face persecution — a requirement of international law. The New York Times

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