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Despite national shortage, immigration lawyers required to bring their own medical gear

In light of the public health crisis, federal immigration officials are requiring that lawyers bring their own protective medical gear if they want to visit their clients inside detention centers.

The new rule was published over the weekend on U.S. Immigration and Custom Enfrocemnet’s COVID-19 webpage. It was rolled out on Sunday despite such a current national shortage of protective equipment that has rocked the healthcare industry, leaving doctors and nurses on the frontlines empty-handed.

“ICE now requires all legal visitors to provide and wear personal protective equipment [disposable vinyl gloves, N-95 or surgical masks, and eye protection] while visiting any detention facility,” the announcement says. ICE will not be providing any of the items.

Following the announcement, the American Immigration Lawyers Association — the national bar that represents immigration attorneys cross-country — along the organizations representing federal immigration judges and the the federal prosecutors who handle immigration cases, issued a joint statement calling the new rule “impossible.”

“There is a severe shortage of [personal protective equipment] across the nation. This requirement will make it impossible for lawyers to represent their clients unless they rob healthcare providers who are working to save the lives of thousands of patients of desperately needed equipment. All live in-person hearings need to be immediately suspended.”

Other attorneys took their own social media accounts, calling the measure “unconstitutional.”

“ICE requiring attorneys to supply their own personal protective equipment to serve detained clients, when medical providers say they don’t have enough, is appalling and unconstitutional,” said Allen Orr Jr., a national immigration attorney and former vice president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

But Sandy Pineda, an immigration attorney based in South Florida, said immigration officials aren’t allowing even some attorneys with medical equipment to see their clients.

Pineda said she visited Krome detention center in South Miami-Dade on Saturday with gloves and a mask, but that she was denied.

“I have a few pairs of masks and gloves because my mom works in the medical field and has always stocked up at home,” she said. “However they told me that because my client was ‘quarantined,’ if he were to come into the room to speak to me, he could put the workers at risk.”

Krome management did not elaborate on why her client would put others at risk and why her client was quarantined. The Miami Herald reached out ICE on Sunday and the agency said nobody in Florida has tested positive for COVID-19. Sources told the Herald however there was one detainee on the premises who tested positive for the flu.

“I think it’s unreasonable unless they plan on providing the equipment to the attorneys,” Pineda said. “This ultimately limits your rights to see your clients in a time when even healthcare workers are begging for the gear.”

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