The Justice Department is advising immigration court administrators and judges to post Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fliers about the coronavirus pandemic in their courtrooms after initially telling staff Monday to remove the posters.
Amid concerns over the growing outbreak, immigration judges have sought guidance from the administration on how to proceed. Unlike federal courts, immigration courts fall under the executive branch, not the judicial branch.
To that end, the union representing immigration judges requested Monday that the Executive Office for Immigration Review – an agency within the Justice Department that oversees the nation’s immigration courts – provide guidance on coronavirus. In the interim, the union sent recommendations to staff, including CDC fliers on the disease and how to prevent its spread to hang up in courtrooms.
Shortly after the judges’ union sent that email Monday, Christopher A. Santoro, acting chief immigration judge, sent a note to court administrators telling them the CDC flier “is not authorized for posting in the immigration courts.”
The Justice Department has since backtracked, telling court administrators and assistant chief immigration judges to post CDC fliers about disease prevention “on each courtroom door and at the courtroom window.”
“As the Department of Justice continues to work closely with the Vice President’s Task Force, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and State and Local Government leaders regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation, we are working to provide you and your immigration court staff with resources to support your important mission,” Santoro said in his Tuesday email.
Judge Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, welcomed the change, but added, “we continue to urge the Department to be proactive on this public health issue and support the flexibility and customized responses that are necessary for each locality. So far that has not been forthcoming.”
Thousands of people come through immigration courts across the country daily. Immigrants fighting deportation generally have a chance to make their case in court, where they can ask a judge to allow them to stay in the US by arguing they qualify for asylum or another legal option.
Any change in operations could have long-lasting ramifications. The backlog facing US immigration courts exceeds more than 1 million cases.