A wide coalition of immigrant advocacy and union groups are demanding the Trump administration close all immigration courts and release vulnerable migrants from detention as enforcement operations have persisted despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Immigration judges, attorneys and Immigration and Customs Enforcement lawyers called on the Department of Justice to close the courts as they pointed out the dangers of holding people in public spaces.
Some immigration courts have remained open for hearings amid the crisis, despite local governments closing some other courts and the Supreme Court postponing oral arguments and closing to the public.
“The scientific, evidence-based opinion of public health experts can only lead to one conclusion for us all who are connected with the immigration court system, and that is to immediately and temporarily close all of the immigration courts nationwide,” Ashley Tabaddor, an immigration judge in Los Angeles and the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges union, said on a news teleconference Tuesday.
“COVID-19 does not discriminate between a DHS trial attorney, private counsel, the respondents or court employees,” she said. “We are all in it together.”
Tabaddor said everyone in the court system needs to commute to work, often on public transportation “standing shoulder-to-shoulder in long security lines, riding in crowded elevators and being placed in cramped waiting rooms and courtrooms bursting at the seam with people.”
Tabaddor also slammed the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration over communication issues, saying announcements were usually being made late night and on Twitter.
“Our primary concern here today is with the Department of Justice’s refusal to either close or postpone immigration court in-person hearings during this global health crisis,” said Fanny Behar-Ostrow, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 511, a union that represents ICE attorneys.
“We oppose an edict that forces respondents to choose between attending court on the one hand or protecting themselves against exposure of the coronavirus on the other,” she said.
If an immigrant with an ongoing case does not show up to court, a judge could order them deported in absentia.