Spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, has caused panic across the United States. With the number of confirmed cases on the rise, the coronavirus has started to affect several facets of immigration.
How government officials handle the virus could have a significant impact on people navigating our immigration process, their health, and the immigration system at large. Some government responses have already made an impact.
USCIS Office Shuts Down Over Coronavirus
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) shut down its Seattle field office on Tuesday, March 3 due to concerns over the coronavirus. An employee of the USCIS office had visited a family member at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington before it was confirmed the facility had an outbreak of the virus.
Those waiting outside the Seattle office last week were surprised to find it closed. One man, who had been ordered to leave the country for Mexico, couldn’t get to his passport—it was locked inside the office. Another man had been waiting for his biometrics appointment but would need to reschedule.
USCIS office closures can have a large impact on immigrants and their families. They often wait months or longer for their scheduled appointments. Rescheduling missed or cancelled appointments can result in further delays.
The Seattle office has one of the worst wait times for naturalization appointments in the country. The average wait time for an appointment is one year and three months. In comparison, other offices in less populated areas only take four months for an appointment.
The office is slated to reopen March 11. But all appointments during the closure will get rescheduled. Many people will wait even longer for citizenship appointments, marriage interviews, and visas for travel.
Immigration Enforcement Under the Coronavirus
Health experts are now asking the government to make hospitals and other healthcare facilities “immigration enforcement-free zones.” These zones allow everyone, including immigrants, to seek out medical services without fear.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sets up certain enforcement-free zones during times of crisis, like natural disasters or terrorist attacks. Immigration agents will not carry out enforcement initiatives such as arrests, searches, or interviews in these designated areas.
A government official assured the Miami Herald that “individuals seeking medical treatment for the virus should continue to do so without fear or hesitation.”
By Melissa Cruz for immigrationimpact.com
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