The coronavirus pandemic has already had huge and damaging effects on the immigration system. This week, according to a report from Latino USA via the Latin American Dispatch, the Justice Department announced that it will postpone asylum hearings as part of the Migrant Protection Protocols, a policy that keeps migrants in Mexico while they await legal proceedings. The delay is risky for populations who are currently in limbo in border cities, suffering tough conditions and lack of access to basic resources.

It’s not quite clear how long people will have to wait until their new hearings. The Justice Department instructed migrants to report to their designated ports of entry on the date of their original court date to get updated details. For now, hearings until April 22 have been moved back and more postponements could come as the virus continues to spread.

Leaving asylum seekers in an uncertain state is just one of the many ways the global health crisis could harm vulnerable communities from Latin America caught in the tangles of U.S. immigration systems. Domestically, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has refused calls to release immigrants in detention, despite moves from countries like the U.K. to reduce their incarcerated populations. Advocates have also painted a dire picture inside facilities, with detained immigrants reportedly staging strikes and resisting guards as anxiety around the virus mounts. ICE recently confirmed one of its officers used pepper spray on detainees who protested.

“Immigrants in detention centers across the country are being held in substandard conditions & in times of crisis this just tends to worsen,” the non-profit organization RAICES tweeted on Thursday. “Quarantines of these places are of no use when people cannot socially distance.”

 

Unfortunately, things are likely to continue to get bleak. RAICES has urged people to contact their congressional representatives to ensure the safety of detained immigrants. You can find your representative here or sign RAICES’ petition to release the country’s detainees.