Immigration Courts Remain Open In Face Of Global Pandemic
Tuesday, March 17, 2020
Photo by Jade Hindmon
On Sunday night, the Department of Justice announced that it would be keeping many immigration courts open across the country, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
That includes the one in downtown San Diego, where asylum-seekers are bused in from Mexico every weekday morning for their asylum hearings under the "remain in Mexico" program. They then wait for hours seated next to one another in the courtroom, before being returned across the border later that day.
Medical anthropologist Bonnie Kaiser, a professor at UC San Diego, believes the shuttling of asylum-seekers poses a possible challenge to stopping the spread of the virus.
“Having people sit on benches next to each other, you know it’s really hard to make sure you can keep appropriate distance,” Kaiser told KPBS. “And [to ensure] that all the surfaces are being disinfected routinely enough.”
Immigrant advocates are worried that Customs and Border Protection might be exporting COVID-19 from the U.S. to migrant shelters in Tijuana. Spokespersons from Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Justice, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement told KPBS that each agency was taking the health of its workers and detainees seriously and had communicated strict guidelines for the care of detainees.
Groups representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement prosecutors, immigration judges, and immigration attorneys joined together in an unprecedented statement to call on the DOJ to close immigration courts during the pandemic.
The DOJ decided not to.
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