Wednesday, May 27, 2020
A new report released today by the American Immigration Council examines major changes to the U.S. immigration system in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the unique challenges the pandemic has created for noncitizens and government agencies. The report, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Noncitizens and Across the U.S. Immigration System,” identifies disruptions throughout the immigration system and makes recommendations for improvements to the federal government’s response.
Over the past several months, the Trump administration imposed immigration and travel restrictions and stringent border controls. Congress passed and is currently considering legislative relief with implications for noncitizens. This report details recent actions and raises important questions about the implications of these measures.
The report draws on the federal government’s policy changes and data to analyze the effect of the coronavirus on immigrants and nonimmigrants abroad, immigration processing at U.S. land borders, immigration detention, and enforcement practices, as well as the congressional response to the pandemic.
The main recommendations of the report include:
- The United States should work to remove the red tape that makes it difficult for many medical professionals to move to the United States and contribute their talents.
- The ban on most new immigrants should be terminated, as it is a thinly veiled attempt to implement drastic changes to our system of family-based immigration and not a genuine attempt to help American workers.
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection should immediately develop plans to administer appropriate screenings at the border for asylum seekers and unaccompanied children, allowing for the safe processing of all individuals in a way that protects the vulnerable, while preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services should suspend all filing deadlines and extend all nonimmigrant statuses for at least 90 days beyond the duration of the COVID-19 national emergency. The agency should also administer oath ceremonies online to approved naturalization candidates.
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement should use its broad authority to release people from detention to the widest extent possible while their immigration court proceedings continue. For those who remain detained, telephonic access to one’s attorneys and family members should be robust.
- ICE should limit enforcement actions that put communities at heightened risk due to COVID-19 and feed the pipeline to immigration detention by implementing meaningful enforcement priorities —such as emphasizing the removal from the United States of people convicted of serious crimes and those who are serious public safety threats.
- The Executive Office for Immigration Review should suspend all in-person immigration court hearings and utilize remote technology until COVID-19 is under control.
- Congress should provide support to mixed status families and take proactive steps to protect immigrants whose status is at risk due to COVID-19.