The Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review shut down two immigration courts in New Jersey and New York on Tuesday following confirmation that people at the Elizabeth Immigration Court and Varick Immigration Court tested positive for the coronavirus, Roll Call reports.
Documented reports that the person who tested positive at Varick is a staffer. It’s unclear who tested positive at Elizabeth, but what is clear is that this virus is now spreading through immigration courts as the DOJ continues to refuse to shut this system down. Roll Call reports that the vast majority of the nation’s 68 immigration courts continue to remain open during this pandemic.
“Earlier in the day, the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) announced that a judge at the Varick immigration court had been diagnosed with pneumonia and had been tested for COVID-19,” Documented said. “It is unclear if they are the same staffer who tested positive.” NAIJ, an immigration judges union that has led the movement to temporarily shutter courts, criticized the delayed Varick move, tweeting, “This closure comes way too late. We are contributing to the spread of coronavirus. Close the immigration courts.”
The Trump administration has prioritized immigrant-bashing over public health in other ways, too. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has refused to parole even children and families from federal immigration custody as other areas have released “people detained in the criminal justice system to protect those people and the community from COVID-19,” a lawsuit seeking the freedom of ICE detainees from California facilities said. Coronavirus is already hitting the ICE system: The agency said a number of employees have tested positive, and it confirmed its first case among detainees on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, steps that ICE has supposedly taken in the name of public safety have actually been sinister moves to suppress the rights of detained people. Miami Herald reported that as medical professionals everywhere are facing a mass medical gear shortage, ICE issued a directive telling attorneys they have to wear face masks and gloves in order to visit their clients. Yet even when attorneys—by some miracle—have found gear, ICE blocked them, Miami Herald said. “Sandy Pineda, an immigration attorney based in South Florida, said immigration officials aren’t allowing even some attorneys with medical equipment to see their clients. Pineda said she visited Krome detention center in South Miami-Dade on Saturday with gloves and a mask, but that she was denied.”
This past weekend, NAIJ, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and the American Federation of Government Employees renewed their call for a complete shutdown of immigration courts, saying: “The DOJ’s current response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its spread is disconnected from the needs and advice of community leaders and scientific experts. The Immigration Courts are especially vulnerable to the spread of the Coronavirus. Every link in the chain that brings individuals to the court, from the use of public transportation, to security lines, crowded elevators, hallways, the cramped cubicle spaces of court staff, inadequate waiting room facilities in the courthouses, and scant sanitizing resources at the courts, all place lives at risk.”
“Across the nation public health experts and government officials are trying to slow the spread of the Coronavirus through social distancing, banning group gatherings, disinfecting surfaces and other means. But in our Immigration Courts, we’re packing people together in crowded rooms for prolonged periods,” NAIJ president Ashley Tabaddor said in the statement. “Keeping the courts open is not only a health risk to everyone who comes to these courtrooms, it is creating a serious health hazard for the broader public. The Immigration Courts should be immediately closed.”