US immigration courts back in business despite coronavirus

Jul 14, 2020 | COVID-19, Immigration law, News

Backlog of 1.2 million cases awaits as courts in New Jersey, Maryland and Michigan reopen to non-detained immigrants.

Three immigration courts in the United States reopened Monday as the government extended its push to fully restart the clogged system despite rising coronavirus cases in states where many of the small courtrooms are located.

In Baltimore, Maryland people with hearings to reach final decisions were allowed to enter the federal building housing the immigration court only if they wore masks. Benches in a courtroom and seats in a waiting area were blocked off with tape, and social distancing signs were placed on the floor and in the elevators.

But scheduling hearings, which can include dozens of people in a single courtroom, did not take place on Monday.

Courts in Newark and Detroit also were scheduled to reopen on Monday. The reopenings extend a haphazard but unmistakable march to business as usual that has outraged judges and lawyers who say the coronavirus pandemic poses an unacceptable risk of spreading disease.

The Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review started reopening courts over the past month to non-detained immigrants, first in Honolulu on June 15 and over the next three weeks in Boston; Buffalo, New York; Hartford, Connecticut; Las Vegas; New Orleans; Chicago; Cleveland; and Philadelphia.

Dallas courts reopened June 29, but five days later, the agency announced on Twitter that it was closing until July 17 and gave no explanation. Texas has been reporting a record number of coronavirus cases, and its governor has warned the state may have to return to a lockdown to get things under control.

San Diego, which also has seen a surge in coronavirus cases, was scheduled to reopen court on July 6 but moved it back two weeks – again without explanation.

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