The fear of contagion by COVID-19, which has claimed thousands of lives in the US, led a group of New Jersey immigration lawyers to sue the President’s Administration Donald trump in federal court to end in-person deportation hearings, believing they endanger your health and that of your clients.
The New Jersey chapter of the National Immigration Lawyers Association (NJ-AILA) went to federal court in the city of Newark in a lawsuit against the US Government – yet another in the long list of legal cases against this Administration – because they allege that these hearings are illegal, in an action that they consider “capricious and arbitrary,” according to the lawsuit.
The attorneys are asking the federal court, also in Newark, that those deportation hearings for non-detained immigrants are made by videoconference, as is the case with other courts in the state of New Jersey.
“The law says that deportation hearings are done in person or by video”said the Peruvian lawyer Cesar Estela, member of NJ-AILA.
Another group of lawyers specialized in immigration, this time from Arizona, have also denounced that they work under the “terror” of being infected with the coronavirus, because they have held some court hearings as well as visits to detention centers.
“In all the courts in New Jersey, state, municipal, federal, (the hearings) are done by video chat and it is not explained why they are doing this when their own officers do not want to appear,” said the lawyer, referring to the fact that the prosecutors handling these deportation cases do not attend hearings in person.
“Immigration prosecutors appear by video because they are afraid to go to the building (where the court is) to get sick. The building has an immense entrance door and there 100 or 200 people crowd every hour to enter, the elevators are small and not ventilated, the courtrooms are very small, ”Estela argued about the conditions faced by lawyers, clients and court employees.
Some judges are not showing up either, he said.
“This case is about the Government’s efforts to force immigration attorneys to risk their health, that of their family, and their communities by forcing them to appear in person for proceedings in Newark immigration court amid a global pandemic. ”Says the lawsuit, filed on July 31.
The lawsuit also reminds the Newark federal court that the attorneys have been denied motions calling for postponement of deportation hearings for fear of catching the virus in court.
The Trump Administration must respond Sept. 3 to a federal judge on why it requires the in-person hearings and present its arguments.
The lawyers also claim that the judges have threatened them with disciplinary action under the rules of professional conduct if they do not appear in person.
Last March, when confinement due to the pandemic was decreed, the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), in charge of regulating immigration courts, suspended in-person hearings but restored them in mid-June in several courts, including the Newark one, without consulting attorneys or organizations.
Estela indicated that this immigration court is in a building where there are other federal agencies, including the Prosecutor’s Office that handles these cases, as well as the agency that handles deportations, and that all are closed.
Give up your rights?
Estela insisted to Efe that the alternative they have to not appear in court is that the hearing be held by phone but, she affirmed, the Government requires that the immigrant sign a document renouncing some rights, including that of objecting to the evidence that is present against him, “and that is absurd, it ceases to be a court.”
“A lawyer is not going to sign a waiver that prevents him from being a lawyer. They have created this problem by forcing to open (the court) when they themselves (the Prosecutor’s Office) are not presenting themselves, ”argued the lawyer.
He explained that the prosecutors, who would have to be at the deportation hearing, are asking the judges to let them appear by phone “but the immigrant and his lawyer are making them make that decision.”
“If the Government presents evidence of why they want to deport (the client), a lawyer has to refute that”Said the lawyer, who described the situation as follows: “Come fight your case or sign this waiver and we will do it by phone. It’s absurd, it’s crazy and that has forced us to file this lawsuit. “
“No lawyer is going to sign that waiver because it is very risky and you lose the case. Or, you go to court, you win your case, but you get sick and die in two months, “he said.