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Q&A: COVID-19 and Immigrants Rights

An immigration law expert explains what options are available to undocumented and immigrant New Yorkers

Read this article in Spanish

Last week, Documented put a call out to Documented Semanal readers on WhatsApp, asking what questions they have about immigration rights as they relate to the coronavirus pandemic. The immigration system has been upended by the outbreak and has created a great deal of uncertainty.

We posed the most recurring questions our readers had to Claire Thomas, Director of the Asylum Clinic at the New York Law School. Read her answers below:

1.- Is it better to go back to my country? I’m still not an undocumented person in the US as I’ve only been here for 2 months. What should I do?

Answer: This is your decision to make. If you entered on a visa and you leave the United States during the time you are still authorized to be present in the United States, you will likely not have to worry about potential bars to obtaining another U.S. visa due to overstaying your original visa. Please note that if you are in the United States for more than 180 days (but less than 1 year) after your authorized stay expires,  you will have a three year period during which you may be barred from re-entering the United States. You can find more information on the USCIS website (also available in Spanish) here.

2.- The Government said that people won’t have to pay rent for 90 days. Will that also apply for undocumented migrants?

Answer: In New York, at the moment of writing this article (March 31, 2020), there is no rent freeze for residential properties. This means that persons, regardless of immigration status, need to pay rent for residential properties.

3.- I have a deportation order for failing to show up to my appointment that was scheduled for December 19th. However, I never got that mail. Now I have another appointment for April 9th. What should I do? What will happen? 

Answer: Is the appointment on April 9th for a hearing in Immigration Court? You should definitely attend this hearing. If not, you can receive a deportation order. You can find out the status of the Immigration Court on their website, which also lists their social media pages (Twitter and Facebook).

If the court is not open due to coronavirus/COVID-19, you will not have a hearing, and it will be rescheduled. Please see the information above. If you move, please be sure to update your address with the Immigration Court so that they know where to send your hearing notice. 

4.- I’m allowed to be in the US legally until April 24, under a tourism visa. Can I extend my stay for this Coronavirus situation?

Answer:  You may be eligible to file an application to extend your stay. This application is Form I-539, go here (also available in Spanish). That page also explains eligibility, fees, documentation, and where to file.

Also, see the USCIS website here (also available in Spanish) for more guidance. 

5.- I’m in the process of getting a visa to stay. What will happen?

Answer: You have applied for an immigration benefit? As of the information available right now (March 31, 2020), it appears that USCIS will continue to process applications. However, there will be no face-to-face appointments (no biometrics appointments and no interviews) until at least after April 7th. See their website for more guidance in Spanish here.

6.- What if my permission to stay expires in the near future and the process is now too slow. Will I become undocumented because of Coronavirus?

Answer: Did you already apply for an immigration benefit to change or extend your status, and/or for a type of immigration relief? See the USCIS website here for more information (also in Spanish) 

7.- I have an appointment, but because of Coronavirus I moved to another state. How can I move the case too?

Answer: You must first change your address. All of the appointment notices you received should have instructions for how to change your address. 

To do so with USCIS, please go here (also available in Spanish). 

If your case is pending in the Immigration Court, you will also need to “change venue,” which means file formal paperwork with the immigration court 

To do so with EOIR (Immigration Court), please go here.

8.- Do I get a chance to apply for unemployment if my SSN is real, but I don’t have a work visa? (I applied for asylum many years ago. It was rejected and I overstayed)

Answer: If you are not in a lawful status allowing you to lawfully work in the United States, it is unlikely that you will be eligible for unemployment benefits, go here (for “Non-U.S. residents”).

9.- Could you please tell me if DACA beneficiaries that are working and have paid taxes, will be able to get some of the help announced by the government?

Answer: The current bill passed this morning by the Senate appears to exclude undocumented individuals.

However, we are getting reports from our users that DACA holders with Social Security Number are getting their coronavirus relief paychecks.

10.- I’m having trouble finding information in Spanish. Are they giving out guidance in Spanish?

Answer: USCIS Information in Spanish is available here.

ICE Information in Spanish is available here.

Factsheet on Coronavirus/COVID-19 from the City of New York in Spanish available here.

EOIR (Immigration Court) information does not appear to be in Spanish. English information available here.

More resources

See another resource guide, by the National Immigration Law Center

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