Immigrants Are Put at Risk As Immigration Courts Remain Open
For the last few months, it seems like the entire world has shut down because of COVID-19. Those shutdowns include court systems. Some courts have held hearings by phone, but for the most part, any type of hearing or trial that is not essential, was put on hold. That is, other than immigration courts, which the government seems to be treating as business as usual.
Immigration Courts Stay Open
When courts shut down or go into limited operation (which does happen routinely with hurricane scares here in South Florida), the state will usually issue an order extending applicable timelines, and postponing hearings and trials. The federal court system did just that with most federal cases, but it did not issue any type of guideline or order extending any hearings or deadlines in any immigration cases.
That means that for the already overcrowded immigration system, litigants and their immigration lawyers were still required to go to court, and risk their health and safety. Any request to postpone hearings or delay legal deadlines, was met with government accusations that immigrants were just trying to delay proceedings.
The government essentially made immigrants choose between their legal status in this country, and their own health and safety.
There are even reports of the executive office that oversees the court system being kept open, even after employees test positive for COVID-19. When the virus is found, the court is closed for a day or two, cleaned, and then it is back open for business as usual, putting everyone at risk.
What about voluntarily agreeing to postpone hearings, where there are not legally required deadlines? Some immigration matters are urgent and need to be brought before a judge immediately, but not all are.
The problem with postponing hearings is that it already takes an inordinate amount of time to get a hearing as it is. Postponing immigration hearings or rescheduling gets you moved to the back of the line, waiting months for another hearing.
Many of the people who are awaiting hearings are among the most vulnerable in our society. Many do not have access to healthcare or health insurance. Some won’t even get needed medical care—including Coronavirus testing—for fear of being deported, even though immigration enforcement activities have been halted at hospitals during the pandemic.
Public Charge Rule Still in Effect
In fact, the government recently argued in front of the Supreme Court to keep its “public charge” rule valid. This is a rule that would deny immigrants entry or visas if they take public benefits, which includes public healthcare, such as Medicaid. Many states argued that keeping the rule would discourage immigrants from getting healthcare, and thus, from getting needed medical care when and if they contract the disease.
The Supreme Court disagreed, allowing the government’s “public charge” rule to stay in effect, even during the pandemic emergency.
Do you have questions about your immigration status? Contact the Miami immigration attorneys at Velasquez & Associates P.A. today with any questions you may have.