General Information on Immigration Issues During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Is Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) still enforcing immigration holds and moving detainees into ICE custody?

Yes. ICE is still enforcing all current immigration holds. There is currently no direct relief due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in March ICE identified over 550 detainees over 60 years of age or pregnant but only released 160 individuals after a lengthy evaluation of their immigration histories, criminal records, potential threat to public safety, flight risk, and national security concerns.

All new detainees will be screened upon entering the facilities and those who meet the CDC’s criteria for epidemiologic risk of exposure to COVID-19. ICE Health Service Corp. (IHSC) will isolate detainees with fever and/or respiratory symptoms to observe them for a specified time period.

Please call an immigration attorney for more information and refer to ICE March 27, 2020, memo (below Resource #1) for further details.

Is Immigration Court still proceeding with removal hearings?

Yes–on a limited basis. All immigration courts located in detention facilities are open and adjudicating removal proceedings. To enter the detention courtrooms, persons will be screened by answering a questionnaire about travel, health, and other various indicators of exposure to COVID-19, as well as having his/her temperature taken. Additional safety measures, such as eyeglasses, mask, and gloves may be provided or required. Please check with the local facility in your area and refer to ICE April 10, 2020 response (below Resource #2) for further details.

 **In Houston, the Conroe facility is conducting telephonic hearings with the approval of the court on a limited basis.

Non-detained hearings, status dockets, and USCIS fingerprinting, swearing ceremonies, and field office visits will be suspended until further notice. Please call an immigration attorney for more information and refer to USCIS Response site (below Resource #3) for further details.

Is ICE still accepting bonds?

Yes. ICE will limit the acceptance of bonds to locations with “bond windows” or other appropriate barriers. Only the individual appearing to post the bonds will be permitted to enter the office. Please contact your local immigration court for further details or call an immigration attorney for more information and refer to ICE Guidance to COVID-19 site (below Resource #4) for further details.

Is ICE allowing visitations of persons in detention facilities?

Yes–to legal representatives. Detention facilities are working on video or teleconference options for lawyers but will allow person-to-person contact if declared essential by the legal representative.

No to family or social visitors. ICE has suspended social in-person visitation until further notice. ICE is “requesting” detention facilities to utilize teleconferencing, video visitation (e.g., Skype, Facetime), email, and/or tablets, with extended hours where possible. Detention facilities should identify indigent detainees to be afforded the same telephone access and related privileges as other detainees. Each facility must ensure all detainees are able to make calls to the ICE-provided list of free legal service providers and consulates at no charge to the detainee or the receiving party, and that indigent detainees may request a call to immediate family or others in personal or family emergencies or on an as-needed basis to maintain community ties. A detainee is considered “indigent” if he/she has less than $15 in his/her account for 10 days.

Please call an immigration attorney for more information and refer to ICE March 27, 2020 memo (below Resource #1) for further details.

RESOURCES:

1)  Memorandum to ALL DETENTION WARDENS on COVID-19 Action Plan, Revision I, (March 27, 2020)

2)  ICE COVID-19 PANDEMIC RESPONSE REQUIREMENTS (April 10, 2020)

3)  USCIS Response to COVID-19

4)  ICE Guidance to COVID-19 website

TCDLA
TCDLA
Paul Tu
Paul Tu
Paul Tu is a founding partner at Arrington Tu and Burnett LLP in Houston. He was selected as a Texas Super Lawyer from 2017-2020 and a Texas Super Lawyer, Rising Star from 2013 - 2016, in the areas of criminal defense and DWI defense. He is a TCDLA board member and former president of the Fort Bend County Criminal Defense Attorney Association. He earned his J.D. from Thurgood Marshall School of Law, where he was senior business editor of the Thurgood Marshall Law Review and received certification from the Institute of International and Immigration Law. He can be reached at and 713-774-2800.
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