Despite increasing demands on the Ministry of Justice to temporarily close all the country’sBecause of the coronavirus pandemic, most courts remain open. Some courts have even reopened after the department confirmed people who were there tested positive for the virus.
Ginnine Fried, a government lawyer representing a union of immigration and customs law enforcement (ICE) lawyers, called the decision to keep most immigration courts open “completely outrageous.”
“Now that people continue to show up in a positive way, you can’t claim for probable satisfaction. Now it is the deliberate breach of human life and safety,” Fried, a vice president of the American Federation of Federal Staff ‘ Local 511, told CBS News.
On Tuesday, 12 immigration courts were closed. Two of them – those in Varick Street, New York and Elizabeth, New Jersey – were closed because individuals who were there received a positive EOIR), The Justice Department branch that oversees immigration courts. But on Wednesday morning, both facilities were again open for business., according to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (
The decision to open the Varick Street site also draws on Facebook. A commentator on EOIR’s Facebook page wrote, “Instead of taking the necessary preventative measures proposed by the CDC, EOIR’s policy is to wait until the staff gets the virus and then close one day. Shameful.”
Federal immigration judges also express concern.
“I’ve never seen such coldness and vacancy in an agency leadership,” Judge Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIC), another union, told CBS News.
Hearings for immigrants not arrested by ICE have been suspended until April 10. The Justice Department also postponed hearings scheduled for April 22 for asylum seekersunder the Migrant Protection Protocols program. But the hearings for interned immigrants and asylum seekers are still moving forward and some support staff is needed to enter the office.
On Wednesday, the Justice Department opened six immigration courts that had been closed, including locations hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic inand California, for the “limited purpose” of accepting attorneys’ applications.
“Failure to close all of the nation’s immigration courts, both non-detention and internment, will now aggravate a public health crisis once in a century and lead to a greater loss of life,” Tabaddor said.
While EOIR discourages continuities in cases involving prisoners, except under the most aggravating circumstances, sources say they routinely happen. If immigration courts were to be closed, non-violent prisoners could be released on a type of parole or be detained for an extended period of time. In the latter case, there are opportunities for immigrants with delayed hearings to apply for habeas corpus or illegal detention. To avoid this, immigration law groups calling on the DOJ to close the courts have recommended that priority issues be terminated by telephone and electronically. Something that, they say, is not happening now.
In a letter to EOIR on Monday, the Association of Deportation Defense Attorneys wrote: “Requests for telephone hearings are not approved quickly, or they are simply not completed even after a prompt request has been made.”
Most, if not all, hearings that are not held have already been scheduled. These types of cases usually involve asylum or deportation exemption. Sources say that hearings that have not been held are often postponed, often for several years, as the immigration court’s ordinance is currently over 1.4 million cases. As a result, all non-arrested immigrants with scheduled interrogations are likely to see a delay in the removal process.
There is also concern that, by keeping the courts open, people must violate orders made by their local or state governments. One person posted on Facebook wrote: “I am a lawyer doing a pro bono lawsuit in Denver. I have an application due April 8. In order to accomplish the application, I have to violate my city’s protection in order to make required copies and then again to send the documents or send them in person. I am in the risk category ar = high (sic) and you are jeopardizing my health and they are employed in court and at the copy site. Shame on you. ”
Earlier this week, NAIJ and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE) sent a letter to Congress asking for a “sense of Congress” resolution in the next stimulus legislation requiring a full and temporary closure of all 68 immigration courts.
“Against the backdrop of inadequate national testing,” the letter read, “it is irresponsible to do anything other than close our courts until adequate testing has been conducted.”
During the 2019 financial year, EOIR closed more than 275,000 cases, the second highest number of additions in the history of the agency.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to CBS News’s request for comment.