- Asylum-seekers in Mexico are ordered to present themselves at the border to obtain new court dates.
- Judges, prosecutors, and activists alike have been demanding that immigration courts be shuttered during the pandemic.
- More than 38,000 immigrants are currently detained, according to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
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All hearings for immigrants who are not currently detained, including asylum-seekers, have been further postponed until May 1, the US Department of Justice said Monday.
Hearings for non-detained persons had previously been set to resume April 13.
The announcement, made in a tweet , falls short of increasingly loud demands from judges, prosecutors, lawmakers, and public health experts to completely shut down the nation's immigration courts during the pandemic.
An immigration judge in San Francisco last week told Business Insider that little has been done to increase safety for those in her courtroom, which she has asked to be closed .
The latest move is unlikely to ease discontent among her fellow justices.
"It's good that non-detained cases are postponed," Judge Samuel B. Cole, an immigration justice in Chicago, told Business Insider, "but unfortunately detained cases are proceeding business-as-usual."
He said such hearings could and should be done over the phone, saying, "People are being put at risk."
Despite the latest postponement, the vast majority of the country's 68 immigration courts remain open, with judges continuing to hear cases involving detained immigrants including thousands who are seeking asylum, many of them children. Advocates have called for this population, especially, to be granted their freedom amid concerns that detained populations are at heightened risk of infection.
On Sunday, a federal judge in Los Angeles ordered the federal government to "make continuous efforts" to release minors in its custody, citing concerns over the spread of COVID-19. Around 3,600 children are currently held in shelters and 3,300 more at detention facilities alongside their parents, The New York Times reported . A separate ruling, reported Monday by The Washington Post, instructs the government to work toward releasing their parents, too.
As of March 21, more than 38,000 people were in immigration detention, according to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The majority have not been convicted of any criminal charge.
Asylum-seekers awaiting their day in a US court, while stuck in Mexico, will have to wait longer, due to the last postponement. But those who had hearings through April 22 are still being required to "present themselves at their designated port of entry" on their court date, where they will receive notice of their new scheduled appearance, per the Department of Justice.
Last week, US Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, joined immigration judges , prosecutors, and activists in calling for the immediate closure of all immigration courts. "The benefit of reducing the risk to public health outweighs pressing forward with non-critical matters durings this pandemic," she wrote in a letter addressed to Attorney General William Barr.
On Monday, Feinstein noted that the Trump administration had agreed to waive in-person hearings for at least some immigrants on agricultural visas, responding to concerns that failing to do so could disrupt food supplies.
Charanya Krishnaswami, advocacy director for the Americas at Amnesty International, said the federal government's moves were welcome but insufficient. The Trump administration should also stop forcing tens of thousands of asylum-seekers to live in crowded camps across the border in Mexico, she told Business Insider, and release immigrants currently held in "tinderbox" conditions.
"The administration's handling of immigration court scheduling, like its treatment of immigrants and asylum-seekrs generally, is equal parts chaos and cruelty," she said.
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