Washington, DC – In procedures inexplicably announced on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings via Twitter, the Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) said that immigration courts in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Newark, Memphis, Sacramento, and Seattle are reopening for the “limited purpose of accepting filings” and that filing deadlines remain unchanged. Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) today said the announcement runs counter with federal guidance to follow state and local policies to stop the spread of COVID-19 and unnecessarily endangers courthouse employees and attorneys seeking to protect the rights of clients, including those who represent unaccompanied children.
In a statement issued today, KIND President Wendy Young said, “During a serious public health crisis, the federal government has a responsibility to provide uniform guidance and ensure its policies adhere to guidelines informed by expert scientists and epidemiologists. It is reckless and irresponsible to ask attorneys and courthouse workers in a random handful of jurisdictions across the nation to disregard state and local guidance to shelter-in-place and shutdown non-essential, in-person businesses. Enforcing legal filings stemming from cases that should be postponed during this crisis endangers public health and grossly undermines urgent efforts to reduce the rate of new COVID-19 infections. EOIR’s rapidly changing policies on court closures are not being made in consideration of science-based health guidance from officials across the nation. KIND’s attorneys and our pro-bono partners who represent kids in the nation’s immigration courts system do so selflessly and in accordance with the law and ethical principles. They should not have to choose between obeying state and local public health guidance and capricious requests from federal agencies. EOIR should immediately pause all filing requirements in immigration court cases and retract its late-night guidance issued via social media.”
Last week, KIND detailed a set of commonsense precautions to protect unaccompanied children and the professionals who serve them, including a request that EOIR postpone immigration court hearings for detained unaccompanied children to minimize risk of coronavirus exposure. Similar calls were also made by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the National Association of Immigration Judges, and other legal professional organizations.
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