US immigration judges urge closing of courts during pandemic

Erik Larson

The U.S. Justice Department should immediately close every immigration court in the country to protect workers during the expanding coronavirus pandemic, immigration judges, lawyers and union employees said in a statement.

Keeping dozens of crowded courts open while the virus spreads undetected across the U.S. puts everyone at risk, including respondents, witnesses and security staff, the National Association of Immigration Judges and the American Immigration Lawyers Association said in a statement Sunday.

The groups pointed to the government’s March 13 decision to close the immigration court in Seattle, the initial center of the outbreak in the U.S., while leaving most of the other courts open. The groups said judges and lawyers would be prepared to handle the most important matters remotely.

“The DOJ has provided no scientific or reasoned basis to explain why one locale deserves this type of protection, while the immigration courts in the rest of the country are being provided with either partial health and safety solutions, or worse, no health and safety precautions at all,” the groups said.

Immigration courts handle removal proceedings and adjudicate asylum claims for immigrants, among other matters. They’re operated by the Justice Department, which didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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