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Border & Immigration

How Will Immigration Courts Handle The COVID-19 Pandemic?

The outside of a MPP court facility in Brownsville is guarded with barbed wire.
Reynaldo Leaños Jr. | Texas Public Radio
The outside of a MPP court facility in Brownsville is guarded with barbed wire.

Christina Brown is an immigration attorney in Denver, but also represents people on the southern border who are in the Trump administration’s Remain in Mexico program, which requires migrants to wait in Mexico while their court cases unfold in U.S. immigration court.

Brown said she and her husband started experiencing flu-like symptoms this week, which concerned her.

“We both had a cough, some body aches and flu-like symptoms for a couple of days, but one of the main things that we’ve been hearing is that when you have a fever that’s when you should be concerned that you might have been exposed to coronavirus,” Brown said. “I found out last night that my husband developed a fever and I was very concerned about that.”

Brown hadn’t developed a fever, but was scheduled to have a hearing at the tent immigration court in Brownsville and worried she would spread her illness.

Her paralegal called Harlingen immigration court to ask for more time on the case. She was told Customs and Border Protection doesn’t test attorneys for coronavirus and that she could file a motion of continuance if she wanted, but that she must do it in person.

“And I had her (Brown’s paralegal) call back and say, okay so we just explained to you that there’s a potential virus exposure issue and you want us to come to court in person and hand another human a piece of paper and potentially contaminate other people in the court house?” Brown said.

After that call they were told they could file their motion via email.

Brown and the National Association of Immigration Judges say that the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts, haven’t provided any useful guidance on how immigration courts should respond to the Coronavirus.

Brown said she’s still astonished immigration court officials initially asked her to file her motion in person. 

“They really need some guidance from their superiors because we’re really risking contaminating a lot of people,” she said.

Brown’s clients are now expected to show up to court at the end of April.

In the meantime, her clients will need to continue waiting in Mexico under the Remain in Mexico policy.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr. can be reached at Reynaldo@TPR.org and on Twitter at @ReynaldoLeanos