The current pandemic is unprecedented in modern American history. Maybe the closest analog is the influenza epidemic at the end of World War I. My grandmother was hospitalized during that affair--in 1919, when she was just six years old--and I remember a story she told me about looking out the window and watching nurses walk up and down the alleyway with soldiers who had been blinded by mustard gas during the war.

Our society has changed a lot since those antediluvian days, but fear, uncertainty, and misinformation seem as pervasive today as in accounts of those earlier times. For me, I draw inspiration from my grandmother, Evelyn Weiss, who lived to be 92. I also feel inspired by my asylum-seeker clients, many of whom have lived through difficult, dangerous, and stressful times, and gone on to build meaningful and successful lives.

For most of us, I daresay, this is a confusing and frightening time. But for non-citizens living in the U.S., far from their support systems and possibly with limited English, I imagine the situation is even more challenging. This is particularly true for people with pending cases, whose status in the U.S. is not secure.

Here, I want to provide some resources for asylum seekers and other non-citizens who are navigating life in the age of coronavirus. One word of caution--the situation with regards to the virus and the government's response is rapidly evolving. For that reason, rather than post much about what is happening now (information that likely will be stale in a few hours), I have focused below on providing links to government websites and other resources, which may be of use. So check those pages, as they should provide up-to-date information about the ongoing crisis.

Immigration Court Cases: As of late last night, all non-detained hearings have been canceled through April 10, 2020. When those cases will be rescheduled, we do not know.

If you have a case scheduled after April 10, 2020, you can check whether your hearing will go forward online or by calling 800-898-7180 and entering your Alien number on the phone keypad. You can also check whether particular courts are closed or partially closed, here. If you are still unsure, you can call the court directly and try to talk to a clerk (this is not always easy).

For detained cases or cases scheduled after April 10, 2020, you may be able to postpone your hearing, if necessary. To do that, you (or hopefully, your lawyer) would file a motion for a continuance. Normally, this is a burdensome and uncertain process, though presumably if the emergency persists, most Judges will be flexible about honoring such requests (though not all Judges are so cooperative).

If you are without an attorney and you need help with your case, there may be pro bono (free) assistance available. I wrote about that here.

If you are interested in learning about the dangers facing detained asylum seekers (most of who have no criminal issues), here is a good piece from NPR.

Asylum Office Cases: As of this writing, Asylum Offices will be closed to the public until at least April 1, 2020. For interviews scheduled before that time, applicants will receive a cancellation notice, and the case should be rescheduled once normal operations resume (in normal times, rescheduled cases are given the highest priority for a new interview date, but I have not seen an announcement about how rescheduled cases will be handled during the emergency). In addition, there will be no in-person decision pick-ups. Instead, all decisions will be mailed out (so make sure that if you move, you update your address). If you need to inquire about your case status, you can do so by email--you can find the appropriate email address here. For any communication with the Asylum Office, make sure to include your name and Alien number. If you plan to submit additional evidence for a case, it is probably best to wait until normal operations resume, but if you must submit evidence, do so by mail (you can find the mailing addresses for the various offices here, but be careful, as some offices have different mailing and physical addresses).

Aside from in-person appointments, USCIS is making an effort to continue normal operations, and so presumably, you can still file new asylum cases and receive receipts (but biometric appointments are not currently being scheduled). Also, if you are eligible to apply for a work permit based on a pending asylum case, you should be able to do so.

Once normal operations resume, note that the Asylum Offices have a liberal postponement policy, and you are urged to postpone your interview if you do not feel well or you believe you might have been exposed to coronavirus. At least for the time being, there is no penalty for postponing a scheduled asylum interview, and it will not stop the clock for purposes of work authorization.

Other USCIS Cases: All in-person appointments with USCIS are canceled until at least April 1, 2020. This includes interviews, biometric appointments, and naturalization oath ceremonies. However, USCIS is still operating, and so you can file new cases and receive receipts.

Once normal operations resume, you can cancel your appointment if that is necessary. For more information about canceling an appointment, see this link. USCIS states that there is no penalty for rescheduling, though we do not know the time frame for when cases might be rescheduled.

ICE Check-ins: For those required to check-in with ICE, the agency indicates that you should contact your local field office prior to your appointment. You can find that contact info here. It seems that different offices have different policies, and unless you can confirm in advance that reporting is not necessary, it is best to appear for any appointment. Hopefully, ICE will issue more useful guidance soon, as it is difficult to communicate with field offices, and they are endangering people (including their own workers) by failing to create a coherent plan.

Traveling Outside the United States: Advance Parole ("AP") is a way for people with pending asylum cases to travel overseas and then return to the U.S. (I wrote about it here). Given the pandemic, you probably can't get a flight out of the U.S. anyway, but if you can, it is probably a bad idea to travel with AP. Given the restrictions currently in place blocking people who have traveled through China, Iran, and the Schengen area, if you leave the U.S. with AP, you face the real possibility of being unable to return. If you are prevented from returning and your AP expires, there may be no way back to the country (except to apply for a new visa, and you know how hard that is).

For people who have asylum, you can get a Refugee Travel Document ("RTD"), which allows you to leave the U.S. and return. However, as I read the travel restrictions, I do not feel confident that people with an RTD will necessarily be able to return to the United States if they are coming from an affected area. There are exceptions to the travel restrictions--for U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and several other categories of people--but there is no specific exception for asylees or refugees with an RTD. While it makes sense that such people can return to the United States, this Administration has taken a very hard line towards non-citizens, and without an explicit exception to the restriction, I think you have to be extremely cautious about leaving the country at this time, even with a valid RTD.

Healthcare: Healthcare for people without legal status in the U.S. has always been a challenge, but now the situation has become critical. If any one of us cannot get the health care we need, all of us are potentially affected. The fact is, there are resources available to everyone, even people who are not in lawful status or who have pending cases. If you need to find a health clinic, the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics is a good place to start. On their website, you can find medical clinics based on your zip code. On a longer term basis, certain non-citizens--including asylum applicants--might be able to qualify for government-subsidized health insurance.

If you think you may have coronavirus, you can contact a government-funded health center. Such centers serve everyone, regardless of immigration status, and provide reduced-fee or free healthcare services. You can search here by zip code to find a health center near you.

If necessary, you can also go for help to the emergency room of your local hospital. From the National Immigration Law Center website--

Under federal law, hospitals with emergency rooms must screen and treat people who need emergency medical services regardless of whether they have insurance, how much money they have, or their immigration status. Similarly, anyone can seek primary and preventive health care at community health centers regardless of whether they are insured, their ability to pay, or their immigration status.

The NILC website has a list of additional resources for non-citizens in need of healthcare or assistance. Finally, the Center for Disease Control has advice about what to do if you are sick and about how to protect yourself from getting sick in the first place.

Unemployment Insurance and Other Assistance: If you are legally authorized to work and you lose your job, you may be eligible for unemployment insurance. Details about obtaining unemployment insurance vary by state, and you can learn more here. The federal government also provides helpful information about unemployment insurance.

In addition, some non-citizens may be eligible for other benefits, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program), nonemergency Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). You can learn more about the legal requirements for such benefits here. To get help obtaining such aid, you might start by reaching out to a local non-profit that assists immigrants. Such organizations might be able to point you in the right direction.

Staying Safe: I am no health expert, but given that those in the know recommend "social distancing" as a way to check the epidemic, it seems to me that (after much dithering) USCIS and EOIR made the right call to postpone in-person appointments and non-detained cases (and hopefully, ICE will follow suit). For many people waiting for their cases, this is another blow, and will be very painful. Once the crisis abates, you can try to expedite your asylum office case, your USCIS case or your court case. Until then, stay safe and if you find any toilet paper, send it my way!

Originally posted on the Asylumist: