Immigration authorities in Boston are now conducting all scheduled immigration “check-ins” by phone, as the coronavirus pandemic continues its toll on the region, a spokesman said Monday.
The move means that no one who is the subject of enforcement and removal operations is visiting the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Boston office. The change was made “in light of current public health recommendations," a spokesman said.
“This approach, which is being communicated to all individuals who have required check-ins, as well as to immigration attorneys, is in effect until further notice in the ICE Boston office, which covers the six states of the New England region,” John Mohan, an ICE spokesman, wrote in an e-mail.
It was unclear how many “check-ins” occur at the Boston office every week. An immigration official said that on a case-by-case basis, at ICE’s discretion, some individuals “who are immigration violators are required to check-in in-person or telephonically ... with an immigration officer as a condition while they are progressing through that process in lieu of being detained as they await the outcome of removal proceedings prior to a future removal date.”
Eva A. Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition, welcomed the change, calling it a wise move. ICE offices, she said, are often crowded.
“It’s a very good idea to do it by phone and not put anybody’s health in jeopardy,” she said.
Millona said the agency could also release all people who are being held for civil, rather than criminal, violations.
Other advocates have pushed for ICE to make changes during the pandemic. On Friday, Matthew R. Segal of the ACLU of Massachusetts urged ICE to reaffirm that the Boston office will continue to treat medical and health care facilities as “sensitive locations” where enforcement will not normally occur, to increase use of detention alternatives, and to review people in custody and “identify those who should be released.”
“In short, the more people ICE targets and detains during the Covid-19 pandemic, the more deadly the consequences might be for detainees, correctional staff, and others,” Segal said.
In a letter Monday, Lawyers for Civil Rights Boston implored federal immigration officials to continue all non-detained cases with upcoming proceedings, cease all removal actions, and stop ICE raids on homes and workplaces.
“If current immigration enforcement policies continue unchanged, they will lead to an unmitigated health disaster that will likely cause thousands of additional deaths and break an already straining infrastructure” the group wrote.
The number of coronavirus cases in Massachusetts rose to 197 Monday, up from 164 on Sunday.