COVID-19 Prompts Some Immigration Facility Closures – But Fewer In South Florida

Mar 19, 2020
Originally published on March 19, 2020 9:59 pm

To help stop transmission of the coronavirus, many federal immigration facilities have closed as of Tuesday night. But many are staying open in South Florida.

In recent days, immigrant advocates and immigration workers have lobbied or even sued the federal government to close immigration facilities temporarily to keep people safe from the new coronavirus, or COVID-19.

So all U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices — which process visa and green card applications — are now closed until at least April 1. But for reasons the government has not explained, immigration courts in Miami remain open (although hearings for non-detained immigrants have been postponed until next month). Also open: the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in Miramar.

In a statement to WLRN regarding the Miramar facility, ICE said it is “working to minimize the impact of COVID-19 by temporarily rescheduling and reducing in-person of non-detained [immigrants] on a case-by-case basis."

But critics say there are still lines of people in Miramar. Jessica Schneider heads the detention program at the nonprofit Americans for Immigrant Justice in Miami.

“That immigration office can be chaotic even during the best of circumstances," Schneider said. "So why take a risk? Why go with a piecemeal approach? Why not just say, ‘We’re cancelling all the appointments up until x-day, or we’re moving this telephonically for the time being’?”

Other advocates say they’re struggling with what exactly to tell immigrants who call about whether they should go to Miramar for things like status check-ins.

“We had a caller that had some lung problems, but they have a check-in they needed to go to," said Laura Muñoz, who directs the hotline at the Florida Immigrant Coalition in Miami. "And they were saying, ‘Hey, I don’t think I’m supposed to go out, but if don’t go, I could be risking deportation.”

In its statement, ICE said, "Any person with an upcoming appointment who is ill, or had close contact with someone who is ill, should contact the Miami Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) field office prior to their scheduled appointment for further guidance."

The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC)  is urging social distancing amid the coronavirus crisis that may not be possible at the Miramar facility.

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