Comments by Sanwar Ali:
In the interests of Justice it is important that people are there in person for Immigration Court hearings and other types of hearings as well. Judges and others can see peoples faces, their expressions, their mannerisms in person. Although cynics might say that most people including Judges have great difficulty in figuring out who is actually telling the truth! In the current situation you have to balance the interests of Justice with the coronavirus COVID-19 situation. For older people in particular catching coronavirus could be fatal.
When it comes to Court hearings recently the attempt to block the book about Donald Trump by his niece Mary Trump: “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man” failed. It was published on 16 July 2020 and has already sold about a million copies.
US immigration courts across the country are reportedly reopening, despite a spike in coronavirus infections in some states. With a backlog of 1.2 million cases in states such as Maryland, Michigan and New Jersey, migrants have been left in limbo waiting for a court date to resolve their US immigration status.
The Trump administration has sanctioned the reopening of at least three immigration courts in an effort to reboot the system and clear the huge backlog, despite coronavirus cases rising in the areas where the courts are based.
In Baltimore, Maryland the federal building where the immigration court is based has been reopened on the condition that people entering wear masks. Seating in the courtroom has been cordoned off with tape, while social distancing signs have been placed on the floor and in elevators.
Scheduled immigration hearings did not take place
However, despite the building in Baltimore reopening for scheduled hearings on July 13, none took place.
Meanwhile, courts in Detroit and Newark were also set to reopen on July 13. The reopening of immigration courts sparked an angry response from lawyers and judges who said that the coronavirus pandemic ‘poses an unacceptable risk of spreading disease.’
Over the past month, the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review started reopening courts to non-detained immigrants. The first to reopen was on June 15 in Honolulu. The following three weeks saw courts reopen in Boston; Buffalo, New York; Hartford, Connecticut; Las Vegas; New Orleans; Chicago; Cleveland; and Philadelphia.
On June 29, a number of courts reopened in Dallas. However, less than a week later it was announced on Twitter that they would be closed again until July 17, with no explanation given for the closure.
Coronavirus cases spiking in some US States
Coronavirus cases in the US are reportedly spiking in several states, including Texas. Texas governor, Greg Abbott, warned that the region could be forced into lockdown again to ‘get things under control.’
The immigration court in San Diego was also set to reopen on July 6, but will remain closed for an additional two weeks without any explanation, though it could be attributed to a spike in coronavirus cases across the city.
Immigration court closures
Immigration court hearings for non-detained immigrants were suspended in March because of the global health pandemic, although courts within detention centers continued to operate a limited service.
The longer the courts remain closed, the more crushing the backlog will become, according to lawyers. In a statement, the US Justice Department said that immigration courts without a scheduled reopening date would remain closed throughout July.
The Justice Department has been criticized for failing to disclose the public data it is using to determine if courtrooms are safe to reopen.
Ashley Tabaddor, a Los Angeles-based immigration judge speaking in her capacity as president of the National Association of Immigration Judges union, said: “We keep coming back to what numbers are you using? They seem to be out of touch with the state numbers we are seeing.”
Judges contact union about health risks
In Dallas, US immigration judges have been in contact with their union amid concerns that their health is unnecessarily being put at risk. The union represents an estimated 460 immigration judges, who work across more than 65 courts.
Tabaddor said: “People don’t have trust that the agency is doing the right thing.”
Online document filing stopped
In addition to reopening US immigration courts, the Trump administration will stop the filing of documents online, which had been put in place to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.
Many have questioned the reopening of immigration courts, which are based in office buildings and not actual courtrooms, meaning that social distancing measures are difficult to maintain because of limited space.
Tabaddor said: “There is little ventilation, especially in older buildings.”
The decision to reopen courts seemingly goes against information issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), from which Trump withdrew funding in the early weeks of the coronavirus outbreak in the US, citing ‘huge failures.’ According to the WHO, the coronavirus can linger in the air indoors, making infection in smaller spaces more likely.
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