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Immigration Court in Times of COVID

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Immigration Court in Times of COVID

How removal hearings are handled during the pandemic in our new normal of virtual living

The world of video conferencing has taken several sectors by storm. From work to school, video conferencing helps us interact with others while maintaining social distancing. The legal community, in the meantime, has played host to its own set of challenges as judges, attorneys and clients navigated a sudden shift to virtual court hearings in response to the pandemic.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review’s “Immigration Court” also experienced changes in scheduling and a shift in in-person accessibility. Starting in late March 2020, the Immigration Court began slowly shutting down several locations, causing hearing cancellations and an inability for individuals to file documents related to pending cases. At first, updates on court location openings were made available only through twitter. To date, the official stance from the Immigration Court is that they announce closures every couple of weeks and offer updates as to specific locations when they arise. For a short period of time, the Chicago Immigration Court was allowing for email filing, but that is no longer the case as of September 2020.

The Chicago Immigration Court has taken a slightly different approach. Unofficially, all “Master Hearings” have been postponed through at least December 31, 2020. This information was made available from sources at the Court who are close to Ibrahim Law Office’s Principal Attorney, Michael Ibrahim. The exception to this unofficial position is the detained Master Hearing, as the Chicago Detained Immigration Court is still open, albeit conducting hearings via teleconferencing only. If you or a loved one is scheduled for a non-detained Master Hearing in 2020 at the Chicago Immigration Court, it is much more likely than not that the hearing will be postponed by the court.

As for Individual Hearings, also known as merits hearings or trials, these matters may or may not go forward. Like detained Master Hearings, detained Individual Hearings are proceeding. Non-detained Individual Hearings seem to be going forward. However, according to our sources, the Chicago Immigration Court is rotating judges in the non-detained setting. Thus, some Individual Hearings are moving forward, while others are being taken off of the docket and reset to a later date. Fortunately for those who seek to avoid physically going into court, individuals may request a telephonic appearance in lieu of an in-person appearance. Such requests must be made in advance of the hearing, and according to the court’s official website, judges are granting these requests quite liberally.

There is currently no confirmed date for a shift back to in-person court hearings across the board. Given the recent news that COVID cases are on the rise, we would not be surprised to see the above restrictions extended into 2021. Most important of all, it is imperative that you or your loved one contact the Immigration Court to ensure your information is up to date. We encourage you to call the automated hotline at 800-898-7180 or to call the court that has your or your loved one’s case.

If you or a loved ones have any questions about the impact of COVID-19 on the Immigration Court, please do not hesitate to contact us at Ibrahim Law Office.

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