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Lawsuits & Litigation

Legal Activists Sue to Shut Down Immigration Courts

— April 1, 2020

The lawsuit notes that everyone from migrants to their attorneys, judges, and bailiffs risk being infected by coronavirus as courts continue to hold in-person proceedings.

A coalition of immigration groups are suing the Trump administration in a bid to shut down immigration courts until the coronavirus crisis comes to an end.

According to The Hill, the lawsuit was filed Monday. In the complaint, the plaintiffs claim that the Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review’s decision not to suspend immigration hearings puts everyone involved in proceedings at risk for contracting COVID-19.

And it’s not just migrants, either—the suit notes that, alongside detainees, attorneys, judges, and other government personnel could get infected while attending court hearings.

“EOIR is effectively forcing attorneys to choose between adequately representing their clients and jeopardizing their health; EOIR is also forcing detained immigrants to choose between their health and safety and their statutory, regulatory, and due process rights,” the groups.

The coalition—comprised of the National Lawyers Guild, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Immigration Justice Campaign—is asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Washington, D.C., to issue an injunction against further in-person immigration hearings.

And, on Tuesday, the case was assigned to Judge Carl J. Nichols, a Trump appointee.

Pressed for comment by The Hill, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said it’s constantly evaluating the situation.

“ICE makes custody determinations every day on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with U.S. law and Department of Homeland Security policy, considering the merits and factors of each case while adhering to current agency priorities, guidelines and legal mandates,” ICE said.

As LegalReader reported last week, ICE has been sued across at least a half-dozen states for its failure to mitigate coronavirus in its own facilities. Other activist groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have demanded the agency release elderly or otherwise vulnerable migrants for the foreseeable future—because COVID-19, while extremely contagious, tends to present significantly more serious symptoms in older adults as well as those with pre-existing health conditions, like diabetes or asthma.

ICE, though, has been hesitant to discuss its policy for releasing migrants in light of coronavirus.

“When making such decisions, ICE officers weigh a variety of factors, including the person’s criminal record, immigration history, ties to the community, risk of flight, and whether he or she poses a potential threat to public safety,” an ICE spokesperson said. “ICE also routinely makes custody re-determinations of those in detention, based on individual circumstances, and may release detainees onto alternatives to detention (ATD) and other monitoring programs, for a variety of reasons.”

The lawsuit, says The Hill, alleges that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is forcing lawyers to wear personal protective equipment to hearings and client meetings.

While federal courts across the country have closed down—all the way up to and including the Supreme Court—immigration courts have continued to operate with significantly less disruption. Policies enacted to suspend in-person hearings apply only to migrants who aren’t currently detained.

“While EOIR has seemingly encouraged telephonic appearances, there is currently no consistent policy or practice in immigration courts across the country of allowing legal representatives to appear on behalf of their clients telephonically or providing remote access alternatives to detained immigrants who wish to proceed with their hearings,” the suit says.


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