The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project calls for the immediate suspension of all immigration court proceedings, joining similar requests from the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ), the ICE Professionals Union, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
The guidance from the CDC is quite clear: the only way to stop the rampant spread of COVID-19 is to practice social distancing to the greatest extent possible. Although the Department of Justice cancelled initial hearings for non-detained immigration courts, there has been no such announcement for detained dockets for children and adults. We acknowledge that this might mean further delaying proceedings for some immigrants who have been detained for a prolonged period, but continuing with immigration court proceedings jeopardizes the health and safety of immigrants, attorneys, judges, guards, court personnel, and others.
Additionally, the Supreme Court of the State of Arizona has called for the suspension of all court proceedings except for emergency hearings, in light of Governor Doug Ducey declaring a State of Emergency for Arizona. We urge EOIR to follow suit.
Simply put, the government continues to prioritize deportations, even during a global pandemic, while it should be focused on the release and reunification of detained immigrants with sponsors and family members. Forcing migrants, their advocates, attorneys, and social workers to break social distancing recommendations for deportation proceedings is unconscionable in a public health emergency.
Additionally, we remind the government that video teleconferencing is not a suitable substitute for in-person hearings for immigrants whose lives and futures are being determined at these hearings. The only responsible decision is to suspend all immigration court proceedings for detained immigrants.
Furthermore, we renew our demand that ICE immediately release on parole any detainees in Arizona who are considered high risk for COVID-19, including those who are older than 60, pregnant, or who have underlying conditions such as a weakened immune system, or heart or lung disease. We are working with community partners to find viable housing solutions for migrants who are in this category and who do not have a sponsor or family member in the United States.