For asylum seekers like Katherine, COVID-19 has made our immigration system even harder. Katherine was pregnant with twins when she realized that her upcoming hearing was scheduled on the same day as her due date. But as courts began to close, conflicting messages and lack of Spanish-language information made it nearly impossible for Katherine to know what to do. Was her hearing postponed? Should she still go to court, just in case? What if her twins arrived on the same day?
Answers to these questions were not easy to find. Rather than putting all updates in one centralized location, immigration courts posted closure updates to their respective Twitter accounts, and exclusively in English – making critical information difficult to locate and inaccessible to most asylum seekers we serve. When courts finally began posting operational updates in one place on the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) website, the information on the website often contradicted information provided by the EOIR hotline. In many cases, the website said that courts were closed, while the hotline continued to tell asylum seekers they had upcoming hearings.
With conflicting information, Katherine wasn’t sure what to do. She faced dual fears. On one hand, if she did attend her hearing, she risked being infected with the virus. On the other hand, if her twins arrived on their due date, she wouldn’t be able to attend her hearing. And if she didn’t attend her hearing, she might receive an in absentia removal order – and ultimately face deportation.
Katherine reached out to the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) through our online community. Our Legal Emergency Room team quickly began working to reschedule her hearing, while also trying to find out whether the court remained open or closed. We ultimately learned that her hearing was postponed, and we notified Katherine right away. With ASAP’s help, Katherine was able to receive accurate information about changes in court policies that she might not have been able to access otherwise, allowing her to focus on the arrival of her twins.
At the end of our case, Katherine shared these words with us: “I want to thank ASAP for their huge help. I had court on April 14th, the day I was also expecting the birth of my twins. I was very worried that I would not be able to attend my hearing and I didn’t know how to change my hearing date. I asked for help in the group and ASAP willingly helped me with all the next steps. Although my court hearing was cancelled due to the virus, ASAP was the one who informed me that my court date was changed. Don’t be afraid to ask, don’t stop going to court because you are scared or because you don’t have an attorney. There are always good people out there who will help us. God bless ASAP.”