As our community responds to the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), NIJC understands that our clients and pro bono network are both dealing with immense uncertainty. While many employers and schools have moved toward remote working and learning, most of the U.S. immigration agencies remain open. In addition, many NIJC clients are employed in fields in which remote work is not feasible and may be facing significant financial stress while also balancing unexpected childcare demands.
In light of this evolving situation, NIJC provides the following recommendations to pro bono attorneys representing NIJC clients. This guidance may change in the coming days and weeks.
NIJC will post any updates we receive regarding the status of these agencies on our website here. If pro bono attorneys have questions specific to immigration court and USCIS operations in locations outside of Chicago, please contact your NIJC point-of-contact.
- Non-detained hearings at the Chicago Immigration Court resumed on July 6, 2020. For the most current EOIR information, please go to the EOIR’s website here.
- On June 26, 2020, the Chicago Immigration Court informed local practitioners:
For the foreseeable future, the Chicago Immigration Court will be holding non-detained merits hearings only. No non-detained master calendar hearings are going forward at this time. Merits cases that had already been scheduled for July 6 or later will proceed as scheduled, unless attorneys and/or respondents have been notified otherwise. Hearings postponed due to COVID-19 will be rescheduled, and new hearing notices will be sent out to notify attorneys and respondents of the new dates.
Initially, four judges will hear non-detained merits cases each week on a rotating basis at 525 W. Van Buren Street. In an effort to facilitate social distancing, only necessary courtrooms will be in use and there will be floor markings in the waiting areas. Court staff will direct attorneys and respondents to the appropriate courtroom.
- Since this guidance was provided, NIJC has informally learned that judges are generally handling merits hearings on a two-week rotation, but that this is likely to change to a one-week rotation in the near future. Attorneys with upcoming merits hearing should be aware that a last-minute cancellation is possible and should contact the court and check the EOIR automated information system regularly to determine the status of their hearing.
- Throughout this time, filings must still be submitted and deadlines must still be met. For more guidance about filing, please click here.
- If attorneys believe they will need to file a motion to request a continuance of a non-detained hearing, as a result of COVID-19, a sample motion to continue can be found here.
- Please be aware that the temporary immigration court email filing system has been discontinued for Chicago. All court filings must now be submitted in hard copy via mail or in-person. Attorneys are still encouraged to serve document on ICE-Office of Chief Counsel via their online eservice portal. More information about the portal and registration process can be found here.
- On June 11, 2020, EOIR issued a policy memorandum detailing additional information regarding immigration court practice and procedure as courts begin to reopen. NIJC encourages pro bono attorneys to review the memorandum if they have any upcoming deadlines or hearings before the immigration court.
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reopened its in-person services on June 4, 2020, including asylum office interviews and USCIS interviews, with certain precautions in place. For more information, please see USCIS’s announcement on its website here.
- On September 23, 2020, an interim final rule (IFR) went into effect temporarily prohibiting asylum seekers from bringing interpreters to asylum office interviews and instead requiring that asylum interviews be conducted with telephonic interpreters provided by the asylum office. The IFR contains exceptions for certain languages, but common languages of NIJC asylum clients (such as Spanish, French, Amharic, and Tigrinya) all require the use of the asylum office-provided telephonic interpreter.
- Generally, only one attorney will be allowed to attend an asylum office interview.
- For Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) predicate order cases: Many courts in Illinois have suspended in-person operations, with some exceptions for emergency and non-detained cases. The most updated information for Illinois courts by circuit is available at http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Administrative/covid-19.asp.
- For most courts subject to closures, new civil cases may still be efiled, but are unlikely to be heard until the courts reopen unless it is an emergency. If you have questions about a pending SIJS predicate order case that may be affected by this policy, please contact the NIJC point-of-contact for SIJS cases (below).
- For detained immigration court cases: attorneys should call the facility where their client is detained before visiting the facility to determine whether in-person visitation is still permitted.
- Attorneys should be able to schedule confidential attorney calls via the normal procedures but should anticipate fewer call slots available and schedule further in advance.
- NIJC pro bono attorneys should speak with their NIJC point-of-contact (below) to determine whether to file a request for release for their client in light of the pandemic.
- Where a client remains detained, attorneys should strive to maintain regular contact even when no active case work is needed.
- Attorneys should check with their client's assigned deportation officer to determine whether their client will be transferred to downtown Chicago for an individual hearing or to Broadview Processing Center for a previously scheduled forensic or psychological evaluation.
- In keeping with the ethical obligations of our profession and our duty to our clients, attorneys representing NIJC clients MUST provide representation before all relevant tribunals when required and meet all filing deadline obligations. At present, filing deadlines still apply in pending cases.
- This includes asylum one-year deadlines; U visa certification expiration dates; and request for evidence deadlines, among others.
- In order to meet legal obligations to the court, USCIS, and clients, NIJC strongly encourages pro bono attorneys to continue casework during any remote work and/or shutdown period.
- Many aspects of immigration casework can be prepared remotely, without a need for in-person client contact. Many NIJC clients rely on public transportation to attend appointments with their attorneys and scheduling telephonic or video (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, etc.) appointments with clients when possible will help prevent clients from unnecessarily exposing themselves to the virus.
- For guidance and best practices on working with clients remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here.
- In particular, when attempting to conduct client meetings or prepare client affidavits over the phone, it is critical to first ensure that clients are in a safe and confidential space to talk. Many clients live in homes with other individuals who are unaware of the client’s history or immigration status. Clients may not be comfortable discussing certain facts in their homes, particularly in front of children. In some situations, it may not be safe for them to do so. Attorneys should take particular care when discussing sensitive information over the phone with clients.
- The immigration agencies still largely rely on mail correspondence. It is critical that attorneys be able to timely access mail at their office even during office closures.
- Please be aware that even if working remotely with clients during this period, original signatures generally must still be obtained for filings. For more guidance about filing, please click here. Contact your NIJC point-of-contact for specific filing questions.
- Many NJIC clients already cope with significant stress and anxiety related to prior trauma; their uncertain immigration status; unstable financial, food, and housing situations; and concerns for family members in dangerous situations. It is likely that the current situation will exacerbate this.
- For a list of COVID-19 related resources in Illinois, please click here.
- For case-specific referrals for mental health services, please contact your NIJC pro bono point-of-contact (see below).
- For food assistance in particular, clients with school-age children may be able to obtain resources via their school district.
- All NIJC clients should access medical care if they need it. If your client is concerned about public charge, please direct them to the resources at protectingimmigrantfamiliesillinois.org.
- Like many law firms, NIJC has moved to remote work where possible, while honoring legal obligations related to court and USCIS cases. NIJC pro bono programs remain accessible for any questions or concerns that arise in an NIJC pro bono case during this time.
NIJC points-of-contacts are: