Help, I’m in Deportation Proceedings- What to Expect from Immigration Court in a Covid-19 World!
Dev B. Viswanath, Esq.
For those who have unfortunate situation of being in removal/deportation proceedings, the entire process under normal circumstances can be a scary and dragged out process. In a Covid-19 world the process has become even more uncertain and scary and even more dragged out.
People find themselves in deportation (or removal) proceedings because of a few reasons, including: 1) conviction of a criminal violation; 2) found to have entered without a visa; 3) violated visa status in some way; 4) finding of fraud or misrepresentation to a government official or agency; 5) referred to immigration court after an affirmative asylum claim has been denied; and/or 6) have some sort of communicable disease or mental health condition which creates a danger to the public. Deportation or Removal Proceedings officially begin with being served with a Notice to Appear, the charging document.
During the covid pandemic, there have been multiple issues related to Notices to Appear, including improper service, incorrect information, not being served/no notice at all, or its incorrectly issued because the person is not deportable. These issues may be present even before covid, but they seem to have become even more prevalent now. There are literally thousands of people who are in removal proceedings, but may have a reasonable ground to fight their notice to appear because of some defect.
Another major problem has been the dissemination of information on court proceedings. The date of court and how or where to appear. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, at least most people were aware that they had to be present in Immigration Court on a particular day. However, after the initial shutdown and the continuous changes to process because of outbreak scares, the directives to lay people in removal proceedings have become very uncertain. The courts are utilizing online systems like WebEx and Voice Over IP protocols like OpenVoice, and still some judges and some courts are still seeing their cases in person at the dedicated Immigration Court. Almost on a weekly or bi-monthly basis, court protocols (sometimes called Standing Orders) are changing and it is very difficult for lay individuals that are not very well versed in Immigration Laws or deportation proceedings to navigate. The key factor here must be on staying informed and whenever possible, seeking knowledgeable counsel to help and advise.
Some people in removal proceedings are also being detained. And the rules for those that are detained and those who are unrepresented by counsel are also very different. Anyone in removal proceedings or that has a loved one in removal, should review the matter very carefully. Some judges are allowing the respondents presence be waived if the attorney is present, some are requiring that the respondent be present with the attorney, some judges are asking that respondents are on video and in the same location as the attorney. All of these rules make preparation key to being successful in moving through the system.
The already burdened and backlogged Immigration Courts have not become better and more efficient since the pandemic started, they have become even more confusing for the average lay person. Moreover a new electronic filing system has been implemented for the Courts and will be live nationwide for all new cases starting in February. Removal and Deportation is not an area to take lightly, and we highly recommend that anyone faced with impending removal, seek the advice of a well versed Immigration Removal professional.