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Immigration lawyers have sported swimming goggles and masks borrowed from friends to meet customers in prisons. The masked judge is buying a cramped courtroom in a narrow court for a hearing he wants to call.
Much of everyday life has been suspended to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, but the Trump administration has resisted calls from immigration judges and lawyers to stop direct hearings and close all immigration courts. . They do not leave immigrants indefinitely detained, as the most pressing hearings can still be conducted over the phone.
The U.S. Department of Justice has delayed hearings of asylum seekers waiting in Mexico on Monday, but only after a San Diego judge rejected an order to continue running their courtroom in a pandemic. The government has postponed hearings for non-detained immigrants, but is moving forward for detained immigrants.
Suspected coronavirus infections have temporarily closed immigration courts in New York, New Jersey and Colorado in the past week. As a precautionary measure, the government further announced a Wednesday closure, stating that others would be reopened just to accept the document. However, many of the 68 US immigration courts continue to hear.
Judges and lawyers are trying to protect themselves. Immigration Customs has ordered lawyers to bring their own masks and gloves that many hospitals cannot find.
And social distance in small courts is difficult, and judge exchange paperwork with legal assistants while lawyers and immigrant families gather. Interpreters fly around the country for public hearings.
Unions for immigration lawyers and judges, and their own lawyers for the Department of Homeland Security, have jointly demanded the closure of all courts.
“Everyone is very worried about coronaviruses because they know they are contagious even when they have no symptoms. It is not enough to respond after the fact. It is too late at that point.” Said Samuel Cole, a Chicago immigration judge who is a spokesman for the National Association of Immigration Judges. “Therefore, everyone is at risk.”
The rules change every day as the virus spreads and authorities struggle to understand how and how to keep large systems running. Authorities did not rule out a complete closure, but they closed certain courts and postponed hearing.
The Justice Department’s Immigration Review Office, which oversees the United States Immigration Court, said in an email to the AP that it would continuously evaluate the situation and make decisions based on public health information. Some courts may close even if no exposure has been confirmed.
“Depending on the nature, size, extent, and extent of the case,” the immigration court system, including the closure of the court, will respond appropriately, said spokeswoman Kathryn Mattingley.
Mattingley said the court system encourages practitioners to use videophones for hearings and phone appearances to reduce risk. She said she didn’t need to submit documents directly.
The immigration court faces 1.1 million open cases, and in many places, lawyers are considered mandatory workers who are exempt from staying in homes from states and cities. In the criminal court, some trials have been postponed, and some states have closed their courts as the virus spread.
For most people, the coronavirus resolves mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, in a few weeks. For some people, especially the elderly and those with existing health problems, they can cause more serious illnesses, including pneumonia and death.
According to the Judges Union, some immigration judges are working at home, while others are refusing entry.
In a New York City immigration court, a lawyer arrived Monday and confirmed that all three immigration judges were absent, and said Andrea Saenz, a lawyer at Brooklyn Defender Services representing detained immigrants. He said.
A few hours later, her lawyer learned that the court had been closed after alleged infection. Lawyers say they need to decide whether to put their health at risk by going to court or leaving, or to keep their clients from being released from detention.
“It’s a disaster,” said Centz.
In New Jersey, such hearing requests can be made online and are granted promptly. But in New York, lawyers say they are often ignored.
After a New York lawyer did not respond, the immigrant mother boarded the train from Long Island and went to the subway in New York City to hand over the lawyer’s request for a written phone call. The woman was later diagnosed with a coronavirus, according to a letter from the Immigration Bureau of the Deportation Defense Lawyers Association.
“Can you imagine the number of people she contacted as a result of the decision to keep this court open?” The letter asked.
Telephone hearings are valid in some cases, but those procedures do not apply to children, according to a lawyer who wants to be postponed.
“How can we make sure they understand the things?” Said Laura Barrera, managing lawyer for the Tucson Children’s Program at the Florence Immigration and Refugee Rights Project.
She said she had been asked to postpone a hearing set for 11 children in government custody on Friday but was refused. Now, the plan is to collect children from different shelters for video listening and put them at risk of exposing each other to the virus, Barrera said.
Lawyers are also struggling to meet and sue adult clients.
Arizona immigration lawyers say that prisons require visitors to wear surgical masks, eyewear, and medical gloves.
Lawyer Margarita Silva was improvised. When she arrived at a detention facility in Eloy, Arizona on Monday, she wore her husband’s land survey goggles, a mask she borrowed from a friend, and medical gloves purchased from a hardware store. She said she felt ridiculous wearing gear to meet new customers.
“The goggles were cloudy every time I inhaled the mask, so the goggles were cloudy,” Silva said.
Another lawyer had only a mask and a second swim goggle, but she said the facility guards and detainees were wearing nothing.
Silva said she, like her, hopes to release detainees with no criminal record or only minor offenses. She said it would ease the need for so many court hearings.
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