US immigration judges unprepared for Coronavirus COVID-19

Sanwar Ali comment:

It seems that some of the time the Trump administration wants to pretend that Coronavirus does not exist.   Does Trump think that Coronavirus makes him look bad.  Trump US visa policies did not keep out Covid-19.  Trump even commented that people are staying in the US and spending money in the US thanks to the Coronavirus.

The coronavirus, properly referred to as COVID-19, has become a worldwide pandemic. Multiple countries have issued complete or partial travel and visa bans – the latest includes Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.

In the US, immigration judges are struggling to know what to do amid the coronavirus pandemic. The union representing US immigration judges has urged the Trump administration to put a process in place that protects judges and their staff. Meanwhile, the union has called for guidance on how to proceed with immigration cases as the virus spreads.

US immigration courts are already faced with a huge backlog of cases and the coronavirus outbreak looks set to further delay hearings.

In a letter to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), an agency within the Justice Department that oversees US immigration courts, the union has called for employees to be briefed on what to do amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Immigration hearings not suitable via telephone or video

In the letter, Judge Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, stressed that immigration court hearings are not practical over the phone or via video link.

Judge Tabaddor wrote: “As you know, our work requires us to be in close contact with the public on a daily basis, often in very large numbers and groups.”

“Beyond our own employees, the respondents who come before us may also be at high risk for developing serious illness. Because we order their appearance and they face the prospect of removal if they don’t appear, sick respondents and respondents vulnerable to serious illness will keep coming to court unless we take action,” she added.

In an all-staff email to immigration judges and their workforce, the union advised that during immigration court hearings, judges should keep bottles of hand sanitizer in the courtroom, while using disinfecting wipes to clean surfaces. The union also urged judges to restrict numbers attending court hearings.

Centers for Disease Control flyers removed and then u-turn

Included as an attachment with the email was a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) flyer about the coronavirus and how to identify symptoms of COVID-19 and preventative measures to stop the spread of the virus.

However, since the email was sent to immigration judges and their staff, acting chief immigration judge, Christopher A. Santoro, notified court administrators that the CDC flyer was ‘not authorized for circulation in US immigration courts.’

Meanwhile, it’s understood that Trump himself ordered the takedown of flyers put up in immigration courts, a move that has been blasted by immigration judges and the US public – many of whom took to social media to vent their disgust at Trump’s decision, describing it as ‘evil.’

In an email, Santoro said: “This is just a reminder that immigration judges do not have the authority to post, or ask you to post, signage for their individual courtrooms or the waiting areas. Per our leadership, the CDC flyer is not authorized for posting in the immigration courts. If you see one (attached), please remove it.”

However, the Justice Department said that Santoro’s instruction was wrong as the flyers had been issued by a federal agency. A spokesperson for the Justice Department said: “Flyers should not have been taken down. The matter is being rectified.”

Trump US immigration policies criticised amid coronavirus

Meanwhile, Trump’s US immigration policies have come under fire, with many accusing the President of making the coronavirus worse at the US border with Mexico and across sanctuary cities.

Immigrant advocates have criticised the Trump administration’s clampdown on sanctuary cities in particular. With an increased ICE presence in sanctuary cities, advocates fear that immigrants will be deterred from accessing much needed healthcare if they fall ill with the virus.

Despite criticism, the Trump administration is taking preventative measures to halt the spread of COVID-19. The entry into the US of recent travellers to China has been banned, while increased screening at more than 20 US airports is now in place.

According to the most recent data, there have been 729 coronavirus cases in the US, with 27 fatalities and 15 people making a full recovery.

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