Thursday, April 2, 2020
Sam Brodey and Scott Bixby for the Daily Beast (April 2) report on what now is the subject of litigation -- the operation of the nation's immigration courts in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic:
"In a country ground to a standstill by the coronavirus pandemic, there is one place normalcy reigns: immigration courts.
Overburdened judges oversee packed proceedings; attorneys shuttle clients and paperwork from room to room, often with interpreters in tow; aspiring legal citizens, or at least residents, follow closely, sitting through hearings famously described as death-penalty cases held in a traffic court.
The courts, along with visa applications, detention hearings and other immigration related bureaucracy, are seemingly the lone part of the federal government still expected to function as if a global pandemic hasn’t upended nearly every facet of American life. But those tasked with keeping the machine running say that they have received little guidance about how to keep the system running in the era of social isolation, and even less protection despite fears that immigration proceedings put some of the most vulnerable people in the country in the impossible position of choosing between their health or their home.
The Trump administration has refused to allow immigration courts and visa hearings to comply with the same social isolation standards followed by nearly every other civil aspect of government, and has not allowed for previously scheduled hearings to be postponed. The administration has also issued little in the way of guidance for judges, immigration attorneys or immigrants, whose hearings—which often take years to schedule—directly conflict with stay-at-home orders across the county.
“The immigration court’s refusal to adopt policies that protect the health of respondents, lawyers, judges and immigration court staff during the current pandemic forces immigrant families and their lawyers to make an impossible decision: endanger public health or risk being deported,” said Nadia Dahab, senior litigation attorney at Innovation Law Lab, one of half a dozen immigrants-rights groups that on Friday filed an emergency order challenging the operation of immigration courts despite the crisis.
“We are in the middle of a global pandemic, but the immigration court system is continuing to operate as if it’s business as usual,” said Melissa Crow, senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project. `The government has turned the court system into a public health hazard.'"