Justice Department closes more immigration courts, postpones hearings

CNN’s Jake Tapper and chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta speak about the recent spike in novel coronavirus cases and warn against unnecessary public exposure.

The Justice Department announced overnight that it’s closing an additional 10 immigration courts, spread out across the country, through April 10 as the novel coronavirus has spread to all 50 states.

It is also postponing all hearings of cases of immigrants who are not in detention. Immigration courts also paused those hearings last year during the US government shutdown.

Government agencies, businesses, and organizations have changed their daily operations as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, requiring employees to stay home and closing offices to the public. Despite administration guidelines to decrease the number of people at gatherings, immigration courts stayed open. On Tuesday, for example, the San Francisco immigration court was open, despite a shelter-in-place order in the area.

The Executive Office for Immigration Review, the Justice Department agency that oversees the nation’s immigration courts, has made incremental changes to court operations in recent days, often late at night, frustrating immigration judges and lawyers who have urged the agency to close courts altogether.

The union representing immigration judges commended the agency’s latest move, but noted the timing and lack of explanation.

“Once again, absolutely no rationale provided, and a stealth midnight move,” the National Association of Immigration Judges, which represents immigration judges, said in a tweet.

In an unprecedented move over the weekend, immigration judges, ICE prosecutors and lawyers joined together to call for courts to be closed.

“Our nation is currently in the throes of a historic global pandemic. The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) current response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its spread is insufficient and not premised on transparent scientific information,” their statement read.

The National Association of Immigration Judges, a union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement trial attorneys, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, collectively, called for the closure.

The Justice Department has still not closed all immigration courts, but its postponement of non-detained hearings will significantly decrease traffic in the courts.

The list of immigration courts closed nationwide now includes Atlanta-W. Peachtree Street, Charlotte, Houston-S. Gessner Road, Louisville, Memphis, New York City-Broadway, New York City-Federal Plaza, Newark, Sacramento, and Los Angeles — Olive Street Immigration Court.

The Seattle immigration court was closed last week and remains closed.