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Immigration system closes some courthouses – but not Miami’s

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Federal officials have decided to close several immigration courthouses around the country – but not Miami’s, the Executive Office for Immigration Review announced in a midnight tweet.

“Due to EOIR’s continuing evaluation of information from local, regional, state, and federal officials regarding the coronavirus pandemic, the agency is postponing non-detained hearings nationwide,” the agency said. “As a result, the following immigration court locations are closed…”

The agency listed courthouses in Atlanta-W. Peachtree Street, Charlotte, Houston-S. Gessner Road, Louisville,Memphis, New York City-Broadway, New York City-Federal Plaza, Newark and Sacramento. Those are in addition to the Seattle courthouse that the agency closed last week.

Those courthouses will be closed to the public but judges and employees still need to come to work. This does not apply to people who are on electronic surveillance, who still need to make the trek to court, sources say.

The agency would not explain why Miami immigration court locations would remain open. Officials also would not say how the government is determining what locations to close or keep open.

“The agency continues to evaluate the dynamic situation nationwide and will make decisions for each location as more information becomes available,“ an EOIR spokeswoman said.

According to an email obtained by the Miami Herald, immigration court staffers and judges at a courthouse were told by management Wednesday to “please understand that decisions for court closures are based upon individual incidents at each respective court.”

“Decisions for closure are beyond the agency level; but rather are forwarded to Main DOJ and ultimately the White House. I have not been privy to the incidents that ultimately led to the closure[s],” the email said. EOIR would not elaborate to the Herald what the agency means by “individual incidents.”

The move to partially shutter their doors comes after immigration judges, ICE prosecutors and, immigration lawyers banded together to blast out letters on social media through their union heads. In the letters they demanded that the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, which oversee immigration courtrooms, offices and check-in facilities, close up shop.

The federal government’s answer was no, despite recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as President Donald Trump, that the public avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.

“We’d much rather be ahead of the curve than behind it,” President Trump said at a White House news conference Monday. “Therefore, my administration is recommending that all Americans, including the young and healthy, work to engage in schooling from home when possible, avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, avoid discretionary travel and avoid eating and drinking at bars, restaurants and public food courts.”

But on Wednesday, at the U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement building in Miramar, almost 200 non-detained people – many elderly in wheelchairs -- stood in a line outside, waiting for their mandatory check-ins.

Over the weekend, ICE told the Miami Herald that it had no plans to close its facilities: “At present time the agency has not [considered it]. However, in accordance with established practice, persons can call ahead and request to reschedule their appointment for a later date.”

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In a late-night tweet, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services also announced it would suspend all “in-person services until at least April 1 to help slow the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). USCIS staff will continue to perform duties that do not involve contact with the public.” This includes naturalization ceremonies.

Back at the courthouses, immigration judges are doing all they can to try to keep away from crowds – that includes calling in sick.

According to A. Ashley Tabaddor, an immigration judge and president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, 6 out of 25 Miami judges called out sick on Tuesday and Wednesday. Fifteen out of 22 judges did the same in San Francisco, as well as nine out of 37 in New York.

The immigration judges’ union has reached out to the Department of Justice asking for a meeting via phone. They keep being pointed to the White House and have yet to receive a response, she says.

“There’s no rhyme or reason to their madness,” Tabaddor told the Miami Herald. “It’s sort of like they are picking and choosing at random with no thought process involved. It’s like someone trying to take off a band-aid one centimeter at a time instead of doing the right thing and just yanking it all off at once.”

This story was originally published March 18, 2020 12:24 PM.

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