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Citing Irresponsible COVID-19 Policy for Immigration Courts, Advocates Urge for Protection of Government Employees, Lawyers, and Immigrants

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), alongside the American Immigration Council, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the National Immigrant Justice Center, and over 100 other organizations, urged the U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to immediately authorize the robust and automatic use of remote options for immigration court appearances and attorney-client meetings.   

The organizations sent a letter calling for the prioritization of the health and safety of government employees, detained individuals, and their legal representatives amid the COVID-19 outbreak. The letter comes as a policy, effective today, requires that attorneys meeting with clients in ICE detention centers bring their own personal protective equipment in order to be allowed into the facilities.  

The letter calls this new policy “alarming” and says that “the suggestion that such equipment be diverted from first responders who are already facing such a critical shortage is particularly unreasonable and unhelpful.”  According to the letter, “ICE and EOIR could instead choose to uniformly utilize telephonic and [video] appearance procedures."  

The groups note that they are making these recommendations in light of ICE and EOIR’s decision to continue detention and to keep the immigration court offices open, putting everyone’s health at risk.   

“Now is the time for decisive action from this nation’s immigration agencies to safeguard the health of the thousands of people in contact with the immigration system, from detained immigrants to advocates, judges, and other workers. What we need are clear guidelines to allow court hearings to move forward by video or phone without limiting the rights of immigrants to a fair hearing, and expanded access to video and phone calls between detained people and legal workers,” said Laura Rivera, director of the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) of the Southern Poverty Law Center.  

“Instead of heeding the advice of public health professionals, EOIR and ICE have adopted policies that will endanger the lives of thousands. Our immigration courts could implement policies that curb the spread of COVID-19 while at the same time ensuring that immigrants’ legal representation rights be preserved,” added Peter Isbister, senior lead attorney with SIFI. “They’ve done neither.”  

The letter is available here.