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NAIJ: DOJ Failed to Inform Immigration Judges of COVID-19 Case, But Told Others in Same Building

The Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) failed to inform immigration judges in Newark, New Jersey that one of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prosecutors who worked in the building had recently tested positive for the novel coronavirus COVID-19, the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) said Friday.

According to NAIJ, the situation is even more troubling because EOIR did notify the employees of a different agency working out of the same building. 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, NAIJ claimed.

In any earlier tweet, NAIJ claimed that the Newark judges were told to keep the positive COVID-19 test a secret. NAIJ admitted that was wrong.

Law&Crime reached out to the Executive Office for Immigration Review’s Communications and Legislative Affairs Division for comment.

The EOIR’s dangerous alleged oversight is the latest flaring of tensions between a Justice Department determined to continue adjudicating immigration cases and the immigration judges who have been persistently calling for the courts to suspend arguments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike other federal courts, immigration courts are part of the executive branch–not the judiciary branch–meaning that all administrative decisions fall under the purview of the White House and President Donald Trump, whose hardline stance on illegal immigration is a hallmark of his administration.

For weeks, employees of the immigration courts have been urging the administration to follow in the footsteps of other federal courts – including the Supreme Court – by delaying arguments until the pandemic is under control.

“The politicization of the immigration courts has now infected the decision-making process of the agency as to the health and well-being of immigration judges, staff and all who appear before the court,” immigration judge and NAIJ Executive Vice President A. Ashley Tabador told the Miami Herald on Thursday. “The health of no one seems to be their primary concern.”

Tabor also said that managers were told that they were prohibited from mentioning anything relating to COVID-19 or coronavirus in any work emails “unless it’s been cleared. ”

As previously reported by Law&Crime, House Democrats echoed immigration judges’ position in a letter sent to the DOJ on Wednesday. They called for the EOIR to “immediately suspend the immigration court master calendar and individual hearings” until further notice.

EOIR caused an uproar earlier this month when the office demanded that immigration judges remove CDC posters with instructions in English and Spanish on how to “stop the spread of germs.” The decision led many to openly discuss whether the Trump administration was actively contributing to the spread of the deadly virus.

[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.