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104 NY Legal Service Providers Ask EOIR for Immigration Court Relief

March 12, 2020 (3 min read)

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 York
State, we are writing to express our extreme concern at the lack of guidance or proactive
initiatives taken by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) to safeguard the health
and wellbeing of those interacting with the New York immigration courts in light of the current
threat posed by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

As you know, New York’s immigration courts are some of the busiest in the country, with
hundreds of New Yorkers appearing for hearings in New York City, Buffalo, and Batavia every
day. Given the high stakes of removal hearings, and the risk of being ordered removed simply
for failure to appear even if due to ill health, we fear that, lacking clear guidance from your
agency, Respondents will continue to appear in overcrowded courtrooms even if they exhibit
symptoms, contrary to the US Government’s recommendations as articulated by the Center for
Disease Control.The virus is highly contagious, and forcing individuals who may exhibit
symptoms to appear in over-crowded courtrooms, as New York’s courtrooms tend to be, and in
public spaces puts the health and safety of not only Respondents, their witnesses, and
household members at risk, but also the legal representatives for all parties as well as your own
agency’s staff and corps of Immigration Judges. In addition, we are extremely concerned by
recent reports that posters on proper handwashing and other preventative health measures
were ordered removed from immigration court hallways.

Unfortunately, until your agency issues clear guidance on this subject, it is highly likely that
Respondents, including those who are sick, will continue to appear in court out of fear of being
ordered deported in their absence. This will no doubt contribute to the existing crisis and have
an adverse effect on the local, state, and federal governments’ attempts to stem the growing
COVID-19 pandemic.

Consequently, we are asking that you develop the following policies immediately, in addition to
any steps recommended by public health policy officials and medical professionals. These
should be translated into multiple languages and widely publicized in order to reach pro se

1. Procedures to request re-scheduling of hearings, and to receive timely responses, for
Respondents who are exhibiting symptoms and/or whose legal representatives are
exhibiting symptoms.

2. Procedures to request re-scheduling of hearings, and to receive timely responses, for
individuals who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 and who may not feel
comfortable putting themselves at increased risk going into packed courtrooms, including
the Respondents and/or their legal representatives.

3. A blanket policy allowing telephonic appearances for individuals who are sick or who are
at risk, but who are nonetheless able to participate telephonically in a scheduled hearing.

4. Contingency plans affecting Respondent parents and/or their legal representatives, in
the event that the New York City Department of Education, New York State Education
Department, and/or other local school districts decide that schools must close to prevent
further spread of the virus.

5. A notification system alerting Respondents and their legal representatives when an
Immigration 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 major
universities around the State have chosen to close at least temporarily, multiple secondary
schools have also chosen to close in attempts to contain the virus, and New York State as a
whole is under a state of emergency. These measures will only likely continue to grow over the
next several weeks, and it is imperative that the US Department of Justice not force immigrant
New Yorkers to make an impossible choice between, on the one hand, safeguarding their health
and the health of their household communities, and on the other hand exercising their due
process rights to defend themselves against removal charges."