Sen. Warren Calls for Nationwide Closure of Immigration Courts During Coronavirus Outbreak

The following is a media release from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office. She was elected by voters in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to serve the state in Washington DC in the US Senate. She is a Democrat.

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WASHINGTON DC United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr and Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) Director James McHenry urging them to close immigration courts in light of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

The senator’s letter echoes calls by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the National Association of Immigration Judges, and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Professionals Union that immigration courts be closed.

“As this public health emergency escalates, the Department of Justice still has not closed immigration courts,” the senator wrote in her letter. “It is past time to do so.”

Last week, EOIR Director Henry McHenry issued a policy memorandum scaling back some immigration proceedings-an apparent acknowledgement of the risk posed by COVID-19-but stopped short of closing all courts completely.

Meanwhile, an immigration judge in Denver has reportedly displayed COVID-19 symptoms, and an immigration attorney in Atlanta has tested positive for COVID-19 “just one day after he appeared in a crowded courtroom.”

In her letter, Senator Warren called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) and EOIR to close all immigration courts nationwide, noting that holding in-person proceedings-at which individuals cannot practice social distancing-increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission and runs counter to President Trump’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America, which urge Americans to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and to “Work … FROM HOME whenever possible.”

“Your inaction is irresponsible and is putting people’s health at risk,” the senator continued. “I urge you to act responsibly and immediately close all immigration courts until the health risks of keeping them open have diminished.”

The senator also noted that EOIR can take steps to mitigate the hardship imposed by the closure of immigration courts, such as conducting bond hearings via telephone or videoconference and exploring other telework and technological solutions, similar to those suggested by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the National Association of Immigration Judges, and the ICE Professionals Union.

Senator Warren has been active on oversight of the immigration courts and immigration policy and enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 11, she sent a letter with Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) raising concerns about DOJ’s handling of COVID-19 prevention efforts in the immigration courts.

On March 5, 2020, she led a letter urging the Trump Administration to suspend all immigration enforcement actions in and around hospitals and other medical facilities.

She has also introduced the Prioritizing Pandemic Prevention Act (S. 3510), legislation to de-fund the border wall and direct those funds to combating COVID-19.

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