In a little over a month, there have been more than a dozen changes to the system, ranging from postponing immigration hearings to pausing deportation flights to certain countries to swiftly removing migrants arrested at the border and suspending refugee admissions. The tweaks to the system are being made incrementally, though rapidly, as the pandemic continues to spread across the country.
Below is a list of the changes to the immigration system.
US extends travel restrictions with Canada and Mexico
April 20: Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf extended restrictions on non-essential travel on the northern and southern border. The restrictions were set to expire after being in place for nearly a month.
The administration also extended authorities that allow the US to immediately expel migrants encountered at the border, including children. CBP said earlier this month it is expelling 80% of everyone encountered in less than two hours.
Administration says it is temporarily amending visa requirements for foreign workers
April 15: The change is designed to help US agricultural employers who rely on foreign workers. Qualified employers who are concerned workers will be unable to enter the US due to travel restrictions can employ those already in the US with a certain visa status.
White House issues memo allowing State Department to impose visa sanctions on countries that don’t repatriate citizens during the pandemic
“Countries that deny or unreasonably delay the acceptance of their citizens, subjects, nationals, or residents from the United States during the ongoing pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 create unacceptable public health risks for Americans,” the memo reads. “The United States must be able to effectuate the repatriation of foreign nationals who violate the laws of the United States.”
Guatemala has raised concerns over repatriation flights. Late last month, a Guatemalan man who was deported from the US tested positive for coronavirus. Guatemalan officials have since warned of more positive cases among deportees and suspended flights for the time being.
The memo notes that the orders are temporary and, “shall cease to apply on December 31, 2020, unless extended.”
ICE releases detainees on a case-by-case basis
April 7: Immigration and Customs Enforcement notified congressional staff that it was reviewing cases of individuals in detention who may be vulnerable to the coronavirus following repeated calls from lawmakers to release detainees.
The agency said that it instructed its field offices to “further assess and consider for release certain individuals deemed to be at greater risk of exposure, consistent with CDC guidelines, reviewing cases of individuals 60 years old and older, as well as those who are pregnant.”
“Additionally, efforts to identify other individuals who may be more vulnerable to COVID-19, based on risk factors identified by the CDC, other than age and pregnancy, are ongoing, based on the recommendations of CDC,” ICE said.
Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli has since told reporters that ICE released nearly 700 people from custody after conducting medical reviews stemming from concerns about the coronavirus.
Trump administration extends postponement of immigration hearings for “remain in Mexico” cases
April 1:The Trump administration extended the postponement of immigration hearings scheduled through May 1 for migrants waiting in Mexico, according to a joint statement from the Department of Homeland Security and Justice Department.
All scheduled hearings will be rescheduled.
Thousands of migrants are waiting in Mexico for their immigration court date in the US as part of the administration’s so-called “remain in Mexico” policy.
Border agency says unaccompanied migrant children will be subject to new border rules
Of the more than 6,000 migrants expelled in March under the new restrictions, 299 were children who arrived alone and 393 were family members.
State Department suspends routine visa services
The State Department later updated its guidance to tell foreign medical professionals with approved visa petitions, or who are eligible for an approved exchange visitor program, to request an appointment at their nearest embassy or consulate.
US and Mexico limit cross-border travel
The US also took the step of barring entry to migrants illegally crossing the southern border. At the direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Homeland Security will suspend entry of all migrants “seeking to enter the US without proper travel documentation” — for both the northern and southern border, acting Secretary Chad Wolf said.
Migrants who are apprehended at the border will either be quickly removed or repatriated to their origin countries.
ICE changes immigration enforcement operations
March 18: ICE told congressional staffers that it has temporarily adjusted its “enforcement posture,” according to a memo obtained by CNN, marking a change in operations as a result of the pandemic. The agency said it will focus on those who pose a public safety risk and are “subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds.”
Immigrant advocates have called on ICE to dial back operations amid the coronavirus outbreak, arguing that the agency has instilled fear in the immigrant community and might discourage some from seeking medical attention.
The agency said in its memo to staffers that it will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, “except in the most extraordinary circumstances,” adding that individuals should not avoid seeking medical care over fears of enforcement.
DOJ closes more immigration courts, postpones hearings
Refugee admissions paused
ICE suspends some deportation flights
USCIS suspends in-person services
ICE reschedules in-person check-ins and pushes back timeline for recent arrivals
March 17: ICE notified congressional staffers that it will temporarily reschedule in-person appointments of immigrants who are not in detention to “minimize the impact” of coronavirus. The agency will also allow those recently released from the southern border to check in at 60 days, instead of 30 days.
Guatemala says it’s suspending asylum agreement with US
US extends travel restrictions to the UK and Ireland
ICE announces a temporary end to social visitation at detention facilities
March 13: ICE said it ceased social visitation in all of its detention facilities. The agency had previously announced that it had put protocols in place, in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to protect staff and detainees.
US implements Europe travel restrictions
Migrant children no longer placed in Washington state and California
The agency has also since stopped placements in New York.