Today we are facing a global health crisis that has disrupted communities and lives around the world. In the United States, the emergency of COVID 19 has brought into sharp relief the need for broad systemic change of the immigration and criminal systems that underlies the Immigrant Legal Resource Centers (ILRC's) mission and policy and advocacy work.

Urgent action is needed at the local, state, and federal levels to mitigate the reach of this pandemic virus. As with most aspects of everyday life, coronavirus impacts every area of our work including disrupting naturalization processes, highlighting the medical neglect in detention facilities, emphasizing the inherent dangers of ICE enforcement activities, exposing the public health concerns in jails and prisons, and demonstrating how immigrants are discouraged from accessing medically necessary treatment. Most disturbing, the administration has weaponized this global health crisis to further damage the immigration system and harm immigrants and their families by actions such as stopping all visa processing from abroad, including issuance of green cards; and closing down our borders and effectively prohibiting people from applying from asylum.

The purpose of this web page is to provide information and resources on how COVID-19 is affecting immigrant communities. In some instances, we issue recommendations for how the government should react to protect immigrant community members and share the recommendations our partners from the immigrant, criminal justice, and health care advocacy sectors. The ILRC will continue to do everything we can to protect and defend the rights of immigrants.

Note: The issues we highlight below are constantly evolving. This page will be updated on a periodic basis as issues related to COVID-19 and immigration continue to rapidly develop. (Last updated: March 25, 2020)

Table of Contents

Immigration Enforcement

Ongoing immigration enforcement will only increase the number of people exposed to COVID-19. The federal government officials who enforce federal immigration laws have demonstrated indifference to the lives, safety, and health of immigrants. On the ground, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has continued its daily enforcement operations to make arrests throughout the country. Although ICE has stated that they are limiting their arrests to those who are not "public safety risks" (according to their own assessment) and individuals subject to mandatory detention, this response falls dangerously short of what is required during this global health emergency. There have been numerous accounts of ICE agents continuing to arrest immigrants during the pandemic.

Federal

Federal immigration agents must immediately suspend all enforcement activities across the US, including but not limited to: cancelling all check-in appointments; not entering local and state criminal jails and prisons to collect information on or arrest individuals; not participating in joint task forces; halting the 287(g) program, which deputizes local law enforcement with certain immigration enforcement powers; community enforcement including but not limited to courthouse arrests and arrests in people's homes, and suspending all deportations. That an agency notorious for disregarding public health should not be allowed to use local criminal systems as a force multiplier for how many people it ensnares is starkly apparent during an international health crisis.

ICE and CBP should not receive additional federal funds to expand detention operations. The CDC guidelines recommend social distancing to limit COVID-19 exposure. ICE and CBP continue to arrest and detain immigrants without any access to appropriate sanitation and precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Any money allocated to the Department of Homeland Security for pandemic response should be restricted so it cannot be transferred for the expansion of enforcement actions, detention, or construction of the border wall. For more information on detention, click here.

State and Local

State and local officials must immediately disentangle their agencies from federal immigration enforcement.

State officials: State and local officials who control jails, prisons, probation departments, and courts, and who determine whether to facilitate ICE arrests at these facilities, must exercise all available legal discretion to stop cooperating with ICE on these efforts immediately. Many states, counties, and cities have implemented sanctuary laws and ordinances that authorize public employees and government agencies to refuse to help ICE arrest immigrant community members. Where there are gaps, these policies should be strengthened, and all other localities should aim to adopt the strongest version of these policies, especially during this health crisis.  

Communities should continue campaigns to ensure state attorneys general, local boards of supervisors, and county sheriffs do not use local resources to help ICE.

Local law enforcement (sheriffs and police): Local and state law enforcement must disentangle themselves from federal immigration enforcement.  This disentanglement includes, but is not limited to, ending : 287(g) agreements; allowing ICE in the jail for any purpose including ICE arrests, information-sharing, or ICE interviews; information-sharing with ICE, including a person's release date, access to databases, booking information or any other local information; supporting ICE raids; and joint task forces. Sheriffs and other law enforcement agencies should not honor any ICE detainers or hold individuals in custody to facilitate transfers to ICE custody.

States with anti-immigrant policies: In states where anti-immigrant, anti-sanctuary state laws are in place, the Attorney General should suspend any provisions of those laws related to ICE detainer mandates and use of local resources for federal immigration enforcement activities, including the suspension of all sanctions and penalties against law enforcement agencies who do not comply with ICE detainer requests. The Governor should cease transfers from state custody to ICE custody.

Groups like the Immigrant Justice Network and United We Dream have written statements and begun called for the suspension of all ICE activities.

Additional Resources

Criminal and Immigrant Justice

Immigrants and citizens suffer from being locked in jails and prisons. We join our partners from the criminal justice advocacy community to demand critical interventions that will ensure incarcerated community members are protected from the reach of COVID-19.

Federal

We urge federal law makers to pass A New Way Forward which rolls back harmful immigration laws that, for decades, have led to racial profiling and disproportionately resulted in the incarceration, deportation, and destruction of families of color and immigrant communities.  Now, more than ever, we need to advance bold new initiatives that protect our communities from over policing and over prosecution.  We join Federal Defenders in calling on AG Barr to reduce pre-trial detention and expand all opportunities for early release. We join our partners in urging the end to the criminalization of migration, including ending prosecutions under 8 U.S.C. 1325 and 1326 and ending Operation Streamline.

State

Governors should consider acts of clemency, including commutations and pardons. Public health experts and local, state, and federal officials have made clear that people are not safe  where they are housed in large numbers. Law makers should give effect to laws authorizing the release of people from jail or prison "when a pestilence or contagious disease breaks out in or near." See, e.g., Cal. Penal Code s. 4012, Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. S. 31-106, N.Y. Correct. Laws. 141, Miss. Code Ann. S. 47-3-7, Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. S. 13-45-111.

Local

At the local level, law enforcement must limit contacts, stops, and warrant enforcement that could contribute to later incarceration.

Sheriffs. Sheriffs should eliminate all pre-trial incarceration, decrease daily bookings and move promptly to release people from jail. We have already seen sheriffs, from Mississippi to California, release people from jails in response to the public health crisis. Sheriffs must request the mass release of incarcerated people and stop engaging in pre-trial custodial detention. For example, in Mahoning County, Ohio, which includes Youngstown, the Sheriff's office has refused to book all nonviolent, misdemeanor arrests at the county jail and is telling officers to issue summonses instead.

Police. Police should increase access to pre-arrest diversion and decrease incidents of booking by expanding cite and release measures. In Los Angeles, in one weekend alone, police reduced arrests from 300 to 60. In Bexar County, Texas, where San Antonio is located, the county has suspended arrests for minor offenses for 30 days. Local law enforcement should minimize instances of taking people into custody and expand access to pre-arrest and cite and release programs.

Prosecutors. Prosecutors should decline criminal charges whenever possible and divert to public health and community-based solutions. Groups of prosecutors have signed on to a letter calling for changing charging practices in light of the pandemic. For charges not declined, prosecutors should reduce as many as possible to citations or non-warrant, non-arrest charges, and make return date 6 months out. Prosecutors should agree to the release of people from custody without bail or in-person check-in with pretrial services. Prosecutors should default to noncustodial sentences wherever possible, avoid pleas that expose noncitizens to subsequent immigration detention where outbreak potential is highest, and reduce the number of in-person appearances in court to resolve a matter. Prosecutors should also actively support efforts for early release from criminal custody as well as record clearance efforts that eliminate the on-going immigration, employment, and housing consequences of criminal convictions.

Additional Resources

Immigrant Detention

Detained immigrants are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Health professionals have already indicated that incarcerated populations are well on their way to being at the epicenter of this pandemic. This is because the healthcare in these facilities is notoriously poor; in fact, medical neglect has led to numerous deaths in immigration detention. Medical neglect is both bad for detained people as well as our communities at large, as both detention center staff and immigrants at the conclusions of their case, return to communities. Immigration detention has always been wholly unnecessary, but during this pandemic - when people around the world are being asked to socially distance - incarcerating people in overcrowded facilities is not only inhumane, but it is also counteractive to broader public health.

Federal

We uplift the demands of Detention Watch Network (DWN), who has created a comprehensive toolkit including a series of demands at the federal, state, and local level in order to protect the health of detained people and all of our communities, across the nation.

At the national level, as detailed in DWN's toolkit, we request that the federal government: 

  • Release of all people currently detained in ICE custody
  • Cease all local enforcement operations including civil enforcement and criminal referrals
  • Eliminate ICE check-ins, use of electronic monitoring, and mandatory court appearances
  • Make phone and video calls free for people connecting with their loved ones
  • Ensure all facilities where people are detained in ICE custody, be it county jails or dedicated facilities, are prioritizing the health and well-being of people detained

For tactics in employing the above demands as well as asks of other national targets such as Congressmembers and Consulates, see DWN's #FreeThemAll Toolkit, in the Links section below.

State

At the state level, we urge Governors to call for the release of detained people as well as use any available emergency powers to halt the expansion of detention. Consistent with some of the asks in DWN's #FreeThemAll toolkit (linked below), Governors should:

  • Call for the release of immigrants in detention
  • Use any available emergency powers to halt the expansions of all immigration detention, effective immediately
  • Suspend the transfer of individuals from state custody to ICE
  • Initiate an inquiry into ICE's response in the care detained people during this health crisis
  • Pressure sheriffs and other elected officials to stop cooperating with ICE to funnel people into detention, especially on the basis of prioritizing resources for public health
  • Make a public statement demanding that ICE release people detained in immigration custody

Local

Here, too, we uplift the demands of DWN's #FreeThemAll Toolkit in requesting that:

County leadership:

  • Write a public statement declaring detention a public health nuisance and calling for ICE and any private corporations involved in local contracts to release all people detained. 
  • Mandate the Public Health Department to conduct and release results of an immediate in-person inquiry and on-site inspection at the detention center to find out if cases of COVID-19 exist there, how they are being handled and communicate the actions and results to the community publicly. 

Sheriffs:

  • Stop receiving community members to be detained at facilities under your jurisdiction and stop cooperating with ICE, which only funnels more people into detention.
  • Ask local health departments to conduct on-site inspections immediately and provide resources as people are released and to their loved ones. 
  • Support release of people in detention.

City leadership:

  • Call for the release of community members in local jails going through immigration proceedings and criminal legal proceedings. Put a moratorium on any more detention in local jails and declare them a public health nuisance. 
  • Mandate health and medical entities to serve immigrants being released and provide information in languages reflecting local immigrant population.
  • Write a public statement declaring detention a public health nuisance and calling for ICE and any private corporations involved in local contracts to release all people detained. 
  • Mandate the Public Health Department to conduct and release results of an immediate in-person inquiry and on-site inspection at the detention center to find out if cases of COVID-19 exist there, how they are being handled and communicate the actions and results to the community publicly. 

Additional Resources

Immigrant Youth

Immigrant children and youth suffer from being locked in juvenile halls and immigration detention jails. We join our partners from the immigrant rights and youth justice advocacy community to demand critical interventions, including large-scale release, that will ensure incarcerated children and youth are protected from the reach of COVID-19. We also call for additional educational, mental health, and economic support for children and youth in immigrant families during these extraordinary times, including those involved in the child welfare or youth justice systems.

Federal

We join partners in calling for the immediate suspension of all immigration enforcement activities and arrests of youth. We call on the Office of Refugee Resettlement to release all unaccompanied children in its custody as expeditiously and safely as possible, as they have been ordered to do by a federal district court judge. We also call on the Executive Office for Immigration Review to indefinitely suspend all deportation proceedings, except in urgent situations. We support our youth justice partners in their request for federal funding to support the needs of emergency responses for youth in the justice system and those at risk of becoming involved with the justice system.

State

We join with advocates across the immigration and youth justice communities to call for releasing all youth from immigration, probation, and state custody. We call on Governor Newsom to ensure that the closure of the state Division of Juvenile Justice is done in a way that invests resources in the community, rather than shifts additional funds to probation, and that does not result in more children being charged in adult criminal proceedings.

Local

At the local level this means that local law enforcement should shift to using cite and release policies for youth instead of booking them, exposing them to unsafe and unsanitary detention conditions, and potentially introducing the virus to juvenile detention facilities.

Immigration Proceedings

Federal

While the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) has instituted some operational changes to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is much to be done. As of the date of this writing, EOIR has postponed all non-detained hearings. Moreover, the following immigration courts have decided to close altogether: Atlanta (W. Peachtree Street); Charlotte; Houston (S. Gessner Road); Los Angeles (Olive Street); Louisville; Memphis; Newark; New York (Broadway); New York (Federal Plaza); Sacramento; and Seattle.

Immigration detention must end during this time. Should, for any reason, folks remain detained, those detained cannot be left without a forum to learn their rights to counsel, right to a hearing, and ability to present a case to get out of immigration custody.

Motions to Continue and Video and Telephonic Appearances Granted
Non-detained cases subject to cancellation will automatically be rescheduled. Practitioners representing detained clients, or those with hearings beyond currently announced cancellations, are asking individual courts to reschedule their hearings or to appear in court either telephonically or via video conference if the immigration courts do not reschedule. To that end, practitioners have shared sample briefs to support a Motion to Continue and Motion to Appear Telephonically or Via Video Conference. Some courts are accepting faxed filings and telephonic requests, but these options should be made universally available to allow advocates and immigrants to shelter in place. We urge EOIR to implement nationwide policies to accept telephonic requests to continue and urgent filings through e-service or fax.

Immigration Services
Most immigration services are now delayed or cancelled as USCIS offices are closed to the public. All application support centers and field offices are now closed. There are limited services available for emergency processing.  Some field offices have announced longer closures and extensions for responding to Requests for Evidence. Check in with local leadership to learn what policies might be in place. Most applications may still be submitted by mail to the agency. For forms that require an original "wet" signature, per form instructions, USCIS will accept electronically reproduced original signatures for the duration of the National Emergency.

By halting all biometric processing and interview, many families are left without recourse to gain needed immigration status or documents allowing travel. USCIS should allow processing without new fingerprints for all routine applications and those where name checks can still be completed. In addition, video interviews should be implemented to allow adjustment of status and naturalization interview and oath ceremonies to go forward. All green card and employment authorization documents should be automatically extended during this time.

The Department of State has suspended routine visa processing at consulates and embassies abroad. This action halts all humanitarian processing and applications for residency to unite immigrants with their families.

We call on the government to remember that, with a global pandemic, we are only as safe as our most vulnerable communities. To that end, we call on federal agencies to ensure processing for humanitarian reasons and to maintain family unity in these difficult times.

Additional Resources:

Public Charge

Since this administration announced changes to public charge policy, immigrants have been fearful of accessing emergency care and other benefits to which they are entitled, due to fears about whether it will lead to denial of an immigration application, green card, or even deportation. The coronavirus is compounding these fears among many immigrants, even those not subject to public charge inadmissibility, to access critical treatment and other health care services that might keep themselves and their families healthy, as well as stop the spread of this virus. The federal government's campaign of fear in this space compounds the public health crisis.

If we want to build a stronger, more resilient, better-prepared, and healthier country where all can thrive, we must reverse the dangerous public charge policy. While USCIS is attempting to assure families now that the new public charge rule does not impede a family's ability to get care related to COVID-19, this announcement is too little to reverse the negative impacts of this rule. Congress or DHS must act to abolish consideration of Medicaid and housing as negative factors in the public charge test. USCIS must halt the public charge rule immediately.

Families should feel reassured that they can access necessary care. Many programs and benefits have no impact on immigration. There are many state and local programs that are safe to use, including:

  • School lunch services are still offering food support and are safe to use. These programs have no negative immigration consequences.
  • Food banks and other emergency relief are safe to use.
  • COVID-19 related health care is safe to use.
  • Loss of employment due to COVID-19 and other secondary impacts caused by the pandemic will be taken into account during an assessment of public charge. For these indirect factors, USCIS will consider any explanations related to COVID-19 in the totality of circumstances.

Federal

Congress must act to halt the harmful consequences of the administration's public charge rule. Congress should make clear that the provision of health care is vital and using needed services cannot count against the immigrant in a public charge test. Congress should act to make clear the use of Medicaid cannot count against an immigrant in the public charge test.

DHS and DOS should act quickly to exempt any use of Medicaid from the public charge test. By pushing out the effective date of the new rules to 2021, the agencies can send a clear message the vital safety net resources or safe to use.

The Federal government should broaden safety net programs, such as unemployment insurance and any income support, to include immigrant families. The Federal government should also postpone the implementation of the public charge rule until the COVID-19 pandemic is over and ensure that public charge related impacts related to COVID-19 are not considered in future public charge assessments. 

State and Local

Advocates should be requesting that Departments of Social Services at the county and state clarify that COVID-19 related health care will not have immigration consequences.

Additional Resources

Naturalization

On March 18, USCIS closed all field offices and suspended all in-person services. Beginning June 4, 2020, certain USCIS field offices resumed non-emergency face-to-face services to the public. Per USCIS, application support centers will resume services later. During the closure, USCIS cancelled and is automatically rescheduling all naturalization oath ceremonies. USCIS field offices will send notices to applicants and petitioners with previously scheduled appointments for interviews or naturalization ceremonies. For judicial oath ceremonies, per guidance dated March 19 from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, federal courts postponed all courthouse proceedings with more than 10 people including naturalization ceremonies. Currently, federal courts are individually coordinating with state and local health officials, and some have issued orders relating to court business, operating status, and public and employee safety.

The USCIS office closure announced on March 18 also applied to biometric appointments and naturalization interviews. Application processing is delayed. Per USCIS guidance, applicants and petitioners who receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) dated between March 1 and July 1, 2020 will have additional time to respond. Any responses submitted within 60 calendar days after the response deadline set forth in the RFE or NOID will be considered by USCIS before any action is taken.

Given the impact of naturalization on an individual's right to vote, ability to travel, ability to petition for family members to immigrate, and access to better jobs including U.S. government jobs, USCIS should take all measures in its power to facilitate naturalization during the pandemic, both during office closures and beyond. This is especially important to reduce backlogs and for seniors or immune compromised naturalization applicants for whom in person oath ceremonies are unsafe. These measures include remote naturalization interviews and oath ceremonies, using available technology. We also call on USCIS to accept emergency requests for interviews and individual oath ceremonies. The federal government has adjusted services across agencies and departments during the pandemic. Similarly, for any naturalization applicant who successfully completed their naturalization interview and is waiting for an oath ceremony to be scheduled, we call on USCIS to accommodate remote oaths and exercise its statutory power to provide for immediate administrative naturalization when a judicial oath ceremony is impracticable. The oath should be administered via teleconference or telephone, if the applicant is able.

At all times when public health guidelines permit in-person naturalization interviews and oath ceremonies, USCIS should schedule same-day oath ceremonies, following the lead of the Baltimore field office, which did so in the first half of March 2020.

USCIS maintains current information on its website at: https://www.uscis.gov/coronavirus

Information on federal courts is available on the Judiciary Preparedness for Coronavirus (COVID-19) page at: https://www.uscourts.gov/news/2020/03/12/judiciary-preparedness-coronavirus-covid-19.

Boundless Immigration is tracking daily developments on its blog at: https://www.boundless.com/blog/coronavirus-immigration/. CLINIC maintains current information on USCIS services during the COVID-19 pandemic at https://cliniclegal.org/covid-19.

Census

Federal, state, and local governments have a duty to ensure that all persons, including immigrants, are counted in the 2020 Census. On March 12, around the same time that the United States began efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, households across the country began receiving their personalized invitations to complete the 2020 Census online. Though the U.S. Supreme Court prevented the Trump administration from including a question regarding citizenship in the 2020 Census, immigrants continue to express fear and confusion about filling out the Census. This is especially true given how impactful the pandemic has been on the lives of immigrants. 

Federal

On the federal level, the U.S. Census Bureau has shifted some of its strategies by extending some of its deadlines to ensure that everyone is counted. The deadline to self-respond to the 2020 Census is now August 14. Similarly, Mobile Questionnaire Assistance efforts, which are meant to be community gatherings to help people fill out the Census, will now begin on April 13. Lastly, on May 7, Census representatives will begin visiting households that have not completed their Census by that date.

Still, the federal government must do more in ensuring that immigrants know that the 2020 Census is confidential and that answers will not be used against them. Moreover, the U.S. Census Bureau must stop their back-end-tactics to try to distinguish the citizenship status of participants by asking states to share information they have about their own residents.

State and Local

State and local governments also have a key role to play by helping promote the Census to immigrant populations. More importantly, state and local governments must prevent the federal government from accessing its information regarding their own residents. For example, state governments must deny the request by the U.S. Census Bureau to hand over driver’s license records.

Additional Resources

Immigrant Community Safeguards

Inclusion in Federal Relief Plans

Any and all federal protections should include immigrants. Currently, the proposed relief bills unjustly exclude millions of immigrant families, including mixed-status families with U.S. citizen children and family members.

Access to Testing and Treatment

Access to testing, treatment for COVID-19 and economic supports for the community including cash assistance should be accessible for all members of the immigrant community without the threat of immigration enforcement.

Loss of Income Support

Many immigrant families will experience job loss during this time. For many, this will result in no income to sustain the basic needs of families. While much attention has been given to addressing the needs of our workforce, protections for immigrants and the most vulnerable have been left out of the conversation. Formal systems such as Unemployment Insurance do not provide assistance to many immigrant workers, including those that have been authorized to work and those that are undocumented. We urge government on all levels to expand access to unemployment and to create emergency funds to support immigrant families. We urge any income support to go to families, regardless of whether they have a valid social security number, allowing release of funds based on ITINs.

Eviction Protections

  • Cities. A growing number of cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, and Seattle are protecting tenants from eviction during this time.
  • States. Several states are considering legislation that would halt certain eviction proceedings. [Resilience OC is calling for a moratorium on rent, mortgages, and evictions, as well as provision of housing for folks experiencing homelessness and recently released from jail/detention.]

Emergency Funds

Communities with natural disaster experience, such as fires, have already created funds for community members that are undocumented and not protected by formal systems, like unemployment insurance. UndocuFund in Sonoma County, CA is a good example. We urge government on all levels to set up funds for this purpose.

Community Response

With the lack of formal support, communities have encouraged each other to engage in best practices. Many communities have called on their members to continue to pay workers for services that can no longer be performed, such as childcare providers, cleaners, etc. In addition, those in need are encouraged to set up GoFundMe accounts to get the help they need.

Additional Resources