Immigration groups sue Trump administration for keeping courts open amid coronavirus

Immigration groups sue Trump administration for keeping courts open amid coronavirus
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Immigration groups are suing the Trump administration over its refusal to close immigration courts during the coronavirus public health crisis.

In a lawsuit filed on Monday, the groups said that the Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review's (EOIR) failure to suspend immigration hearings amid the pandemic puts migrants, their attorneys and government personnel at risk.

"EOIR is effectively forcing attorneys to choose between adequately representing their clients and jeopardizing their health; EOIR is also forcing detained immigrants to choose between their health and safety and their statutory, regulatory, and due process rights," the groups said.

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They urged the U.S. District Court in D.C. to step in and block the agency from holding in-person hearings for the duration of the public health crisis. On Tuesday, the case was assigned to Judge Carl J. Nichols, who was appointed to the court by President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick MORE.

The suit was filed by the National Lawyers Guild, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Immigration Justice Campaign on behalf of four detained clients.

EOIR did not respond when asked for comment.

A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which was also named in the lawsuit, said "ICE makes custody determinations every day on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with U.S. law and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy, considering the merits and factors of each case while adhering to current agency priorities, guidelines and legal mandates."

"When making such decisions, ICE officers weigh a variety of factors, including the person’s criminal record, immigration history, ties to the community, risk of flight, and whether he or she poses a potential threat to public safety," the spokeswoman added. "ICE also routinely makes custody re-determinations of those in detention, based on individual circumstances, and may release detainees onto alternatives to detention (ATD) and other monitoring programs, for a variety of reasons."

According to the lawsuit, ICE is requiring immigration lawyers to bring their own personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks in order to meet with their clients. 

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The immigration lawyers argued that the agencies' practices in the middle of the crisis are unconstitutional. Most federal courts across the country have suspended in-person hearings where possible and enabled lawyers to submit filings and make appearances remotely.

EOIR has so far suspended in-person hearings only for migrants who are not in detention.

"While EOIR has seemingly encouraged telephonic appearances, there is currently no consistent policy or practice in immigration courts across the country of allowing legal representatives to appear on behalf of their clients telephonically or providing remote access alternatives to detained immigrants who wish to proceed with their hearings," the groups wrote in their lawsuit.

Updated at 1:10 p.m.