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.
- On May 15, 2020, EOIR announced that all non-detained hearings have been suspended through Friday, June 12, 2020. Please note:
- The Chicago Non-Detained Immigration Court remains open for filings. However, court staff is limited and attorneys who need more immediate responses to any filings, are encouraged to file via email during this time because judges may not always have easy access to paper filings (see below for more information on email filing).
- Filings must still be submitted. Filing deadlines for hearings that do not fall within the hearing suspension time frame have not been explicitly continued or postponed. Thus, at present, attorneys should plan to meet all filing deadlines until told otherwise for hearings occurring after June 12, 2020, as well as any other case-specific deadlines (such as one-year filing deadlines for asylum). 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 scheduled after June 12, 2020 as a result of COVID-19, a sample motion to continue can be found here.
- On March 31, 2020, EOIR announced a new, temporary e-filing system via email. Attorneys can now use this filing method, rather than filing via mail or in-person, for most cases. NIJC does not recommend that attorneys use this method for filing skeletal asylum applications. The Chicago Court has also instituted other restrictions that limit its use. Please click here for important, specific instructions on utilizing this e-filing system.
- As of 2 pm on April 24, 2020, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it was extending its suspension of all in-person services, including field office interviews, asylum office interviews, and biometrics appointments, and will not reopen until June 4th or later.
- At present, it appears that USCIS service centers will remain open for mail filings, but may not be able to adjudicate all applications without biometrics collection. Attorneys must still file affirmative asylum applications with USCIS prior to their client's one-year filing deadline. For more guidance about filing, please click here. Contact your NIJC point-of-contact for USCIS filing questions.
- For Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) predicate order cases: Cook County courts are suspending most operations for at least 30 days, with some exceptions for emergency and detained cases.
- 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.
- Please click here for instructions on utilizing EOIR’s new, temporary e-filing system.
- 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 information on understanding benefits non-citizens can receive during the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here. (A Spanish-language version is available here.)
- 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: