Coronavirus halts some immigration courts, but not in Arizona




    A group of migrant families in an overcrowded space known as “hielera” (or icebox) cover themselves with aluminium foil sheets on June 2019 in Weslaco, Texas facility, as documented in a Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General report from July 2, 2019. Screenshot.

    Immigration courts across the country on Wednesday postponed most hearings through April 10, including in Arizona, though for detained adults, teens and children it is business as usual, according to the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

    All immigration courts in Arizona remain open, despite calls from lawyers and judges to close all courts and halt all hearings as the nation implements drastic measures limiting mass gatherings to prevent the spread and infection of the coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease. 

    According to EOIR, people who are not in government custody and had immigration hearings scheduled between March 18 and April 10 will receive a new hearing notice. 

    In a statement, The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project an Arizona nonprofit that provides legal representation to detained immigrant adults and children said postponing court hearings for people who are not in government custody is not enough. 

    “Forcing migrants, their advocates, attorneys, and social workers to break social distancing recommendations for deportation proceedings is unconscionable in a public health emergency,” the statement said. 

    The group insisted on the suspension of all immigration court proceedings considering the public health crisis caused by the coronavirus. 

    “We acknowledge that this might mean further delaying proceedings for some immigrants who have been detained for a prolonged period, but continuing with immigration court proceedings jeopardizes the health and safety of immigrants, attorneys, judges, guards, court personnel, and others,” the group stated. 

    The state’s federal district court postponed all civil and criminal jury trials that were scheduled to begin by April 10 and grand jury trials set to start by April 17, The Arizona Republic reported. And Arizona courts have stopped jury selections and are sharply curtailing in-person hearings as a response to the coronavirus.

    The Washington Post also reported on Wednesday that the arm of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that arrests people for deportation will delay all its enforcement actions due to the COVID-19 crisis. According to the Post, ICE will focus on arresting and detaining people with criminal convictions. 

    There are approximately 37,000 people detained in ICE facilities, the Post said. 

    Arizona groups, including the Florence Project, and national organizations have also called on ICE to release all detainees who are considered at high risk of falling seriously ill from COVID-19, which includes people older than 60 and those with underlying conditions such as a weakened immune system, or heart or lung disease. 

    “We are working with community partners to find viable housing solutions for migrants who are in this category and who do not have a sponsor or family member in the United States,” the Florence Project said in a written statement.

    Laura Gómez
    Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.