Political News

Justice Department watchdog reviewing decision to keep immigration courts open during pandemic

Posted May 7, 2020 12:35 p.m. EDT

— The Justice Department's inspector general is reviewing the Trump administration's decision to keep the nation's immigration courts open while the coronavirus swept through the United States.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review, the agency within the Justice Department that oversees the immigration court system, came under increased criticism from immigration judges, attorneys, and prosecutors for proceeding with immigration hearings despite social distancing guidelines and shelter in place orders.

Eventually, the agency postponed hearings scheduled for immigrants who are not in detention, providing some reprieve and resulting in less traffic at the court, but hearings for immigrants in detention, including children, continue to proceed.

It made incremental changes to court operations in the first weeks of the outbreak, often late at night and through Twitter, frustrating immigration judges and lawyers who repeatedly urged the agency to close courts altogether.

According to the inspector general's website, the office will "assess EOIR's communication to staff, parties to proceedings, and the public about immigration court operations; its use of personal protective equipment; its use of worksite flexibilities; and its ability to mitigate health risks while maintaining operations during the COVID-19 pandemic."

The concerns about the Justice Department's approach prompted an unprecedented alliance between immigration judges, prosecutors and lawyers who joined together to call for courts to be closed.

The National Association of Immigration Judges, a union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement trial attorneys, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, collectively, called for the closure.

The Justice Department has since closed some immigration courts, while others remain open only for filings and hearings of people already in custody.

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