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Mar. 12, 2020 letter from 104 NY legal service providers to EOIR Director McHenry:
"On behalf of the 104 undersigned legal service providers representing immigrants in New YorkState, we are writing to express our extreme concern at the lack of guidance or proactiveinitiatives taken by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) to safeguard the healthand wellbeing of those interacting with the New York immigration courts in light of the currentthreat posed by the novel coronavirus outbreak.
As you know, New York’s immigration courts are some of the busiest in the country, withhundreds of New Yorkers appearing for hearings in New York City, Buffalo, and Batavia everyday. Given the high stakes of removal hearings, and the risk of being ordered removed simplyfor failure to appear even if due to ill health, we fear that, lacking clear guidance from youragency, Respondents will continue to appear in overcrowded courtrooms even if they exhibitsymptoms, contrary to the US Government’s recommendations as articulated by the Center forDisease Control.The virus is highly contagious, and forcing individuals who may exhibitsymptoms to appear in over-crowded courtrooms, as New York’s courtrooms tend to be, and inpublic spaces puts the health and safety of not only Respondents, their witnesses, andhousehold members at risk, but also the legal representatives for all parties as well as your ownagency’s staff and corps of Immigration Judges. In addition, we are extremely concerned byrecent reports that posters on proper handwashing and other preventative health measureswere ordered removed from immigration court hallways.
Unfortunately, until your agency issues clear guidance on this subject, it is highly likely thatRespondents, including those who are sick, will continue to appear in court out of fear of beingordered deported in their absence. This will no doubt contribute to the existing crisis and havean adverse effect on the local, state, and federal governments’ attempts to stem the growingCOVID-19 pandemic.
Consequently, we are asking that you develop the following policies immediately, in addition toany steps recommended by public health policy officials and medical professionals. Theseshould be translated into multiple languages and widely publicized in order to reach pro seRespondents:
1. Procedures to request re-scheduling of hearings, and to receive timely responses, forRespondents who are exhibiting symptoms and/or whose legal representatives areexhibiting symptoms.
2. Procedures to request re-scheduling of hearings, and to receive timely responses, forindividuals who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 and who may not feelcomfortable putting themselves at increased risk going into packed courtrooms, includingthe Respondents and/or their legal representatives.
3. A blanket policy allowing telephonic appearances for individuals who are sick or who areat risk, but who are nonetheless able to participate telephonically in a scheduled hearing.
4. Contingency plans affecting Respondent parents and/or their legal representatives, inthe event that the New York City Department of Education, New York State EducationDepartment, and/or other local school districts decide that schools must close to preventfurther spread of the virus.
5. A notification system alerting Respondents and their legal representatives when anImmigration Judge may be out, and providing timely notice of case rescheduling.
Please note that as of the writing of this letter, the town of New Rochelle currently has a“containment zone” being implemented by the New York National Guard, at least three majoruniversities around the State have chosen to close at least temporarily, multiple secondaryschools have also chosen to close in attempts to contain the virus, and New York State as awhole is under a state of emergency. These measures will only likely continue to grow over thenext several weeks, and it is imperative that the US Department of Justice not force immigrantNew Yorkers to make an impossible choice between, on the one hand, safeguarding their healthand the health of their household communities, and on the other hand exercising their dueprocess rights to defend themselves against removal charges."