There is no question that every segment of society has been effected by Covid-19. Sadly, the most vulnerable populations are not receiving much needed attention and, as a result, the plight of many individuals is being ignored. One such population are immigrants which are detained and in removal proceedings in immigration courts across the country.
In March of 2020, and in response to the Covid outbreak, the Executive Office for Immigration Review (a part of the Department of Justice which oversees all removal proceedings in the United States) essentially shut down all non-detained cases through the end of May 2020. All detained hearings were supposed to go on as usual. Despite no official closure by EOIR, many immigration judges handling the detained docket have made personal decisions either not to go to work or to cancel all of their hearings. In addition to this, any time an individual appears in a detained courtroom and there is even the slightest possibility that this individual was around infected people, the courts will completely shut down. The result of these actions is that most detained cases have also come to a standstill.
Despite the fact that our office handles a majority of detained cases, we have seen hearing after hearing after hearing cancelled and rescheduled for a much later date. This is not the case for every immigration judge, as some judges remain faithful to move their cases forward to the best of their ability and within the limits allowed by EOIR.
Making matters worse, the Covid outbreak has finally reached these detention centers and infecting many individuals. As of the present date, ICE has 606 confirmed cases of detained individuals that have tested positive. Given the close proximity that detained individuals are at these detention centers, the number of cases will continue to spread rapidly. In fact, in Richwood Correctional Center alone, there are already 61 detainees that have tested positive.
The sad reality is that from the beginning, ICE has not done much at all to prevent the spread of coronavirus and the concerns of the healthcare workers working to serve the detained immigrant population. ICE continues to transfer thousands of individuals in and out of these facilities causing even greater risk for causing an outbreak at these detention centers.
To make matters even worse, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the very organization whose mission it is to protect the vulnerable immigrant population, has filed a motion for temporary restraining order with the United States District Court for the District of Oregon asking to shut down all detained hearings.
As a result of all of these events, what we have is tens of thousands of individuals who remain in close proximity to individuals who have been infected with the virus and do not have the ability of being released since their cases have all stalled and ICE isnt' granting requests for parole. Case in point, Liberty Law Group has a specific client that suffers from both asthma and diabetes for whom we made a parole request, which has not even received a response from ICE. There are thousands of other non-violent immigrant detainees who suffer from underlying conditions and extremely susceiptible to death from Covid-19, but ICE refuses to release them as well.
What can be done about this? While Covid-19 presents a complicated problem, the solution is easy. First and foremost, all immigrant detainees who suffer underlying conditions and don't have a criminal history evidencing violence against persons should be given supervised release. Second, ICE should put a hold on intra-facility transfers so that individuals from outside these facilities don't bring Covid-19 with them into these facilities. Finally, EOIR should do everything possible to keep the detained docket moving so that the individuals who will not be released will have their day in court and not linger in these detention centers month after month.
Louisiana immigration attorneys at Liberty Law Group have clients scattered in detention centers all throughout Louisiana and Mississippi. If you have a loved one in detention and in need of assistance, call us today for a free consultation. Even if you ultimately choose not to retain us, we can still lead you in the right direction.