DOJ Delays 'Remain in Mexico' Hearings Due To COVID-19

By Suzanne Monyak
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Law360 (March 23, 2020, 9:35 PM EDT) -- Asylum seekers waiting in Mexico who have immigration court hearings over the next month will see their court dates postponed, the U.S. Department of Justice said Monday, as the federal government aims to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.

A spokesperson for the DOJ's Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees the immigration court system, said in a statement that all preliminary and merits hearings through April 22 for individuals subject to the Trump administration's "Remain in Mexico" program will be rescheduled "due to circumstances resulting from COVID-19," the disease caused by the virus.

Migrants with immigration court hearings scheduled before then will report to their designated port of entry on the date of their hearing to receive their new hearing dates, the spokesperson said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the EOIR "are deeply committed to ensuring that individuals 'have their day in court' while also ensuring the health and safety of aliens, our frontline officers, immigration court professionals, and our citizens," the spokesperson said.

Their hearings will not be cancelled, and the program, dubbed the Migrant Protection Protocols, will continue, the spokesperson continued. The U.S. Supreme Court gave DHS permission to continue implementing the program, which forces some migrants to wait in Mexican border towns for their U.S. immigration court hearings, while a legal challenge to it continues.

While federal and state courts across the U.S. have closed their doors, the EOIR has kept most immigration court opens, despite reports of judges and attorneys falling ill and mounting calls from immigration judges and attorneys to close the courts to protect court staff, lawyers and the immigrants themselves.

The EOIR has delayed all immigration court hearings for immigrants who aren't in detention, and has closed 10 immigration courts in major cities.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has also ceased in-person interviews, while U.S. consulates across the world have suspended routine visa services.

Monday's announcement comes after the Trump administration closed the U.S.'s borders with Canada and Mexico to all but essential travel and enacted broad restrictions that would turn away asylum seekers.

The order barring foreigners without papers from entering the U.S., issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday, requires DHS to swiftly send back migrants who entered the U.S. in between ports of entry and to block migrants without travel documentation from entering the U.S. at entry ports.

That CDC order also states that medical experts have concluded that people waiting in Mexican border camps under MPP are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, which has so far killed 400 people and infected more than 33,000 in the U.S., and that Mexico has fewer health resources than the U.S.

"Medical experts believe that community transmission and spread of COVID-19 at asylum camps and shelters along the U.S. border is inevitable," CDC Director Robert R. Redfield wrote in the order.

--Editing by Adam LoBelia.

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