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Changes to the Immigration System During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Written By The Shapiro Law Group on April 17, 2020

The Trump Administration is using the pandemic to make dramatic changes to the immigration system. In March, the President signed an executive order temporarily halting immigrating to the United States. However, the order was pro forma, as most immigration was already halted or significantly reduced due to the pandemic. However, this is just one of the dozens of actions taken by the Administration.

Travel Restrictions with Canada and Mexico

The Department of Homeland Security imposed and subsequently extended restrictions on non-essential travel through the southern and northern borders. The order also authorized border officials to expel individuals met at the border, including children. The order resulted in an increase in expulsions, resulting in 80 percent of individuals expelled in less than two hours.

Administration Temporarily Amending Foreign Worker Visa Requirements

The Administration is also loosening some immigration programs. For example, it allows agricultural employers who are unable to fill positions because of travel restrictions may employ those already in the United States. In short, immigration authorities are waiving work restrictions for certain visa holders.

State Department Instructed to Impose Sanctions on Countries that Don’t Repatriate Their Citizens

The State Department is permitted to impose sanctions on countries that refuse to accept their citizens expelled from the United States. The Administration argues that refusing the accept these expelled individuals poses a health risk to American citizens. However, recipient countries are also concerned because expelled individuals test positive for COVID-19, and some, like Guatemala, lack the resources to control an outbreak if one occurs.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) to Release Immigration Detainees

Detainees held in ICE facilities are vulnerable to infection for a variety of reasons (such as poor health, age, poor hygiene practices in the facilities, and lack of access to medical care and monitoring). Accordingly, ICE is identifying vulnerable detainees and releasing them to avoid infections.

State Department Suspends Visa Service

The States Department is the agency responsible for processing routine visa issues, such as renewals and applications. However, the State Department suspended visa services (services to U.S. citizens will continue).

Department of Justice (“DOJ”) Postpones and Suspends Hearings

The DOJ temporarily halted “Remain in Mexico” hearings. The Administration’s controversial “Remain in Mexico” policy is now the default position of the United States as the hearings are temporarily suspended. The DOJ also postponed immigration courts across the country.