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DOJ Announces Closure of NJ Immigration Court Hours After People Showed Up for Proceedings

The Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) announced that the federal Immigration Court in Elizabeth, New Jersey would be closed on Monday to help stymie the spread of COVID-19–two hours after the court’s regularly scheduled 8 a.m. opening time.

The announcement came via tweet at 10:08 a.m., well after people began arriving for scheduled hearing. It happened the morning after President Donald Trump extended social distancing guidelines until at least April 30, advising people to stay home and avoid public spaces.

Making matters worse, the court is located less than 15 miles from New York City, which has become the epicenter of the outbreak domestically with 32,308 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Sunday afternoon. New Jersey has the second most confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Immigration attorneys were outraged by the EOIR’s oversight, with many noting that the error could end up costing people their lives.

“Too bad people already showed up for court this morning in Elizabeth – because the announcement is being made at 10 am when court begins at 8am and is located in a remote area next to NYC,” immigration attorney Bridget Cambria wrote on Twitter. “Wake up and be professional, people are dying.”

Monday’s late notification was the latest in a series of coronavirus-related failures that can be attributed to the EOIR in a time of pandemic.

As previously reported by Law&Crime, the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) said the EOIR failed to inform immigration judges working out of the Newark, New Jersey court that one of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prosecutors who worked in the building had recently tested positive for the virus, even after the office notified and sent home other employees in the building who worked for a different agency. The immigration judges only learned of the ICE prosecutor’s positive test after several of them obtained the other agency’s notification email and began forwarding it amongst themselves.

Earlier in March, the EOIR was also accused of taking actions that may have contributed to the spread of the virus among immigrant communities when they ordered immigration court staffs to remove posters from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention aimed which informed people in English and Spanish of steps to take to avoid contracting or spreading the contagion.

Law&Crime reached out to EOIR for comment.

[image via Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.