Coronavirus Halts Hospital Raids

July 15, 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially declared the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus a pandemic. With more than 170,000 confirmed cases and over 15,000 deaths in the U.S., many are concerned that COVID-19 will only continue to spread if not properly contained and treated. The current political climate regarding immigration only adds to the unrest; considering the recent accounts of immigration authorities patrolling hospitals, undocumented immigrants may not seek the care they need for fear of deportation. The U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) has stated that its sensitive locations policy, one that prevents ICE enforcement actions from occurring at hospitals, schools, and places of worship, is still in effect.

Immigration activists express concern about the government’s potential response to undocumented immigrants amidst the pandemic. A senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) notes that if people are afraid to seek medical attention, it puts everyone at greater risk. She, along with hundreds of other public health and legal experts, sent a letter to the Vice President imploring that hospitals be deemed enforcement-free zones; the government has done so during other widespread emergencies, such as 9/11.

Could the Coronavirus Response Trigger Immigration Enforcement?

Although neither the White House nor the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has directly responded to the request, ICE has advised that anyone seeking treatment do so without fear because of the sensitive locations policy. Under this longstanding policy, enforcement actions, such as arrests, interviews, or searches, are not to occur at sensitive locations, including:

  • Schools
  • Medical treatment and health care facilities
  • Places of worship
  • Religious ceremonies
  • Public demonstrations, such as marches, rallies, or parades

However, ICE agents may carry out enforcement actions at sensitive locations without prior approval in limited circumstances, such as if there are exigent circumstances related to national security, terrorism, or public safety, or where there is an imminent risk that material evidence pertaining to an ongoing criminal trial will be destroyed.

Coronavirus Not Considered an Exigent Circumstance

According to ICE, the Coronavirus is not considered an exigent circumstance. Although ICE has a history of showing up at hospitals and other sensitive locations, most doctors feel that patients should not have to fear that seeking medical attention will lead to arrest or deportation. Hospitals are protected by confidentiality laws, meaning that they do not have an obligation to report undocumented immigrants to immigration authorities. Several hospitals in South Florida have confirmed that they do not typically make such reports.

Senators are also calling for suspension of the new public charge rule, which could make it harder for immigrants who use public benefits to obtain green cards. Many legal permanent residents have already unenrolled from benefits for fear that they would be considered a financial burden on the government and be denied citizenship under the recent implemented law. Without health insurance, immigrants are even less likely to seek the medical treatment they need.

Vineland Immigration Attorneys at the MC Law Group, LLC Advocate for Individuals Facing Immigration Issues During the Pandemic

If you have an immigration concern amid the current pandemic, contact a Vineland immigration attorney at the MC Law Group, LLC today. We assist clients with all types of immigration issues and will not hesitate to fight for your rights. From our office in Philadelphia, we serve clients in throughout the tri-state area, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide. Contact us online or call us at 215-496-0690 for a free consultation.