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Furloughs at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services are coming closer, even as naturalization rates grow as immigrants seek to become voters before the 2020 election. The agency is facing major revenue cuts and is asking for $1.2 billion from Congress to avoid an effective shutdown at the end of August. “Based on the latest estimates of surplus funding that will carry over into fiscal year 2021, I believe that the agency can and should delay their furlough of 13,000 dedicated public servants until September 30, 2020,” said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who serves as vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee. ABC News
In other national immigration news…
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Lawyers and Judges Fear COVID As Immigration Courts Open
As immigration courts open up across the country, lawyers worry the agency is acting prematurely, and that the threat of COVID-19 remains ever present during hearings. James McHenry, director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, issued guidance that all visitors to the immigration courts must wear face coverings, but there was no mandate for judges. Ameina Khan, an immigration judge in New York, said EOIR’s measures to protect court staff have fallen short and judges are given “mixed messages.” Law360
Arizona Supreme Court Lets Prosecutors Seek Death Penalty for Immigrant with Intellectual Disability
Arizona’s Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling that barred prosecutors from seeking the death penalty for a Mexican immigrant who was charged with a 2015 murder. Apolinar Altamirano is accused of fatally shooting Grant Ronnebeck, a 21-year-old convenience store clerk who told Altamirano he had to pay for a pack of cigarettes. Altamirano is a Mexican citizen who lived in the U.S. undocumented for about 20 years, and his lawyers say he has an intellectual disability. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling barred the use of the death penalty on those with intellectual disabilities. Trump has cited Altamirano’s case as justification for his immigration crackdown. Associated Press
Minnesota Naturalization Backlog Nearing 14,000
Nearly 14,000 immigrants in Minnesota are waiting for citizenship ceremonies as USCIS wait times grow. The pandemic has created up to 25-month wait times in the state, and with the impending USCIS furlough, they are only likely to grow. Mawla Saqeb began the process of becoming a citizen nine months ago. He has yet to be called for an interview. “I wanted to be an American citizen to vote and to do more for the United States,” he said. “This is our first home now.” The wait also affects immigrants who plan to use citizenship status to bring other family over to the U.S. MPR News
Judge Allows Independent Experts to Visit Virginia Detention Center
A judge has ruled independent experts can visit Farmville Detention Center, an immigration jail in Virginia that has been the site of the country’s largest COVID outbreak in the detention system. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema agreed to allow lawyers of inmates who have filed a lawsuit over conditions in the facility to bring in a medical expert to conduct an inspection. Brinkema also agreed to a request from lawyers representing the private company running the facility to bring in an expert as well. More than 80 percent of the facility’s 300 detainees have tested positive for COVID. One of the immigrants jailed there has died. WHSV 3
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