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Safety concerns voiced regarding immigration courts in wake of virus

Across the nation and the world, people are rapidly trying to figure out how to respond to the growing pandemic and help stop the spread of the potentially deadly virus. This effort impacts every facet of society, including the legal and judicial one. It seems the responses by courts varies in part by jurisdiction as well as by area of focus.

Politico reported that activities at many state and federal courts are being reduced as courtrooms close or other methods of addressing and hearing cases are being implemented. Within the federal immigration court system, however, the response has been much slower. Only six immigration courts have been closed altogether and cases for people who are in custody are still progressing. Only cases in which a person has not been detained have been postponed at this time.

This response and approach on the part of the government is garnering a lot of criticism, even within the system itself. Through the union that represents them, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the National Association of Immigration Judges and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have called upon the U.S. Department of Justice to close all immigration courts and conduct essential proceedings via video or phone only.

Some judges attempted to take matters into their own hands by promoting actions and behaviors to prevent virus spreading, such as handwashing and more. This was done by posting notices about these practices. The notices were removed by the DOJ initially, although the agency later changed its approach to the posters created and publicized by the judges. It remains unclear at the moment how, if or when the federal government will take stronger measures to protect all people in the immigration court system.