Washington, DC—As a legal services organization serving unaccompanied children throughout the United States, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) expresses its deep concern for the safety and well-being of unaccompanied children and all who appear before and work within the immigration courts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
KIND urgently requests that the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) postpone all court appearances and hearings for detained unaccompanied children during the COVID-19 emergency until public health and medical authorities determine that it is safe to resume regular social interactions and operations. Recently, EOIR postponed all non-detained hearings scheduled through April 10, 2020, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. While we commend this step, we believe far more is needed to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus to those appearing before and working within the nation’s immigration courts.
Unaccompanied children face unique vulnerabilities in immigration court as a result of their age, developmental needs, language barriers, and trauma history. The scheduling of court hearings during the COVID pandemic only heightens children’s anxiety and the risk of exposure for vulnerable children as well as court staff, attorneys, interpreters, and prosecutors at a time when public health officials have advised restricted contact with other individuals and the public. Court appearances require that children increase rather than decrease their interactions and risk of exposure as well as those of ORR, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and court staff.
In light of these concerns, KIND urges that all immigration court hearings and appearances for detained unaccompanied children be delayed until public health and medical authorities determine that routine social interactions and operations may safely resume, and that EOIR continually update attorneys, respondents, and the public as additional information about the COVID pandemic becomes available. KIND recognizes that there may be exceptional cases in which it is necessary to hold a hearing by video teleconference or telephonic conference during this crisis. Recognizing due process and other concerns with remote hearings for children, KIND urges that decisions about any such emergency measures be governed by the best interests of the child and occur only at the request or with the consent of a child’s attorney.
Please contact Megan McKenna, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-631-9990, for more information.