After brief coronavirus closure, Seattle immigration court reopens to backlash – Crosscut

They say both staff and detainees are at risk of contracting COVID-19 if the courts remain open, including in Seattle and Tacoma.

“It’s fair to say that all judges, whether in a detained or undetained setting, are concerned about their own health and that of their family, the health of attorneys for both sides that come before them, as well as the aliens,” said Judge Brett M. Parchert, an immigration judge in Seattle who was speaking as the local union representative for the National Association of Immigration Judges. 

“We would like for the agency to be more proactive in shutting down the court system to protect everyone’s health involved,” Parchert said in a recent phone interview.

After closing briefly, the Seattle court reopened Thursday, prompting a backlash, including from Washington state representatives. The DOJ’s Executive Office of Immigration Review also reopened the court in New Jersey — another COVID-19 hotspot. Two ICE detainees in New Jersey have tested positive for the virus.

Mimi Tsankov, eastern region vice president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said immigration judges have experienced COVID-19 symptoms but are awaiting test results. 

The entire court environment, Tsankov argued, is not conducive to health and safety during a pandemic.

“Court staff, private bar attorneys, DHS [Department of Homeland Security] counsel, respondents, contract interpreters, witnesses and others are interfacing with the court while suffering with symptoms and in some cases with COVID-19 positive results,” she said. 

In reaction to the reopening of the immigration courts in Seattle and New Jersey, Washington state lawmakers, including U.S. Reps. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, and Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, and U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, wrote in a letter to the federal government on Thursday: “As you are well aware, Washington State and New Jersey are under statewide orders to shelter in place. Reopening the courts forces people to make an impossible choice between complying with court requirements and public health guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

They noted that the order would require nonprofits and law firms across two severely impacted regions to send people back to work and bring in clients to prepare court filings.

In a statement on Friday about the court’s reopening, Mayor Jenny Durkan said: “This is both a public health violation and a human rights issue. It is reckless and irresponsible for the Trump administration to allow immigration courts to operate despite an active pandemic and multiple states’ orders for residents to stay at home.”

Parchert said the reopening of the immigration court in downtown Seattle took everyone “a little bit by surprise.” Lawyers and clients have complained that the primary way they are finding out about court closures and openings is through Twitter and Facebook posts, forcing everyone to scramble. 

“Most judges are not on Twitter, so we have had to learn, for example, to Google ‘DOJ EOIR’ and ‘Twitter’ to try to obtain information about the status of other courts, as well as an indication if the life or safety of colleagues may have been compromised,” Parchert said.  

The Justice Department’s Executive Office of Immigration Review did not respond to emails requesting comment.

Parchert explained the reopening of the immigration court in Seattle is limited, but that staff members had been told on March 17 they would not be returning for at least 14 days.  

The Seattle court is currently set to resume hearings April 13, which many consider worrisome. Parchert said clients travel from all over the state — Yakima, Walla Walla and other places — to attend hearings at the court. Courtrooms are small and crowded, all factors that could make the spreading of COVID-19 likely.

Parchert also pointed out that many immigration judges across the country fall into the at-risk category with regard to COVID-19.

“The natural part of being a judge is that you’re a little older,” said the 52-year-old Parchert, noting lawyers need years of experience before being promoted to the position. 

Although immigration advocates have long been concerned with a backlog of cases —  about 15,000 immigration cases are currently pending in Washington state — Parchert said the first priority should be everyone’s safety, even if the closures make the mountain of cases worse. 

“Judges by their very nature tend to be Type A personalities,” Parchert said. “That does add to the stress,” he said, referring to the backlog of cases. 

“But the stress is secondary to the current pandemic,” he added.

Immigration lawyers say they are unable to adequately prepare for their cases under current circumstances. 

Tim Warden-Hertz, directing attorney with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Tacoma, said although the courtroom at the ICE detention center there is doing as much as possible remotely, with lawyers calling in or using video, he remains worried about staff and detainees. 

Detainees deemed mentally incompetent, for example, have to show up to court in person. 

The biggest issue, Warden-Hertz said, is the inability to confidentially prepare clients for court. 

In-person attorney visits at the detention center currently happen in an open hallway and behind glass, making it easy for anyone in the same space to overhear conversations. Also, the fact that only one person at a time can be on the phone with the detainee sitting behind the glass makes it impossible to work with language interpreters.

Even if a lawyer calls his client from an office instead, the detainee must use a phone in a large cell, referred to as a pod, where other inmates are able to overhear the specifics of cases, including details such as LGBTQ status, gang violence and other sensitive matters. Phone connections can also be spotty, Warden-Hertz said.  

“Really the only way to ensure that people get a fair shake is to let them out,” Warden-Hertz argued. He said given the current public health emergency some undocumented immigrants might opt to sign off on deportation papers, even with a strong case.

“It feels like an impossible situation,” Warden-Hertz said. “It’s just hard when you see your clients, and they’re so terrified.” 

He said closing the courts has to go hand in hand with releasing people.

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Detainees in US immigration jails living in fear as coronavirus spreads – The Guardian

Recordings obtained by Guardian reveal people in Ice centers in the south concerned they are not being properly cared for

The Trump administration has massively expanded the use of immigration detention facilities, with hardline policies that have driven the detention population to record highs.




The Trump administration has massively expanded the use of immigration detention facilities, with hardline policies that have driven the detention population to record highs.
Photograph: Gregory Bull/AP

Detainees at immigration detention centers across the American south have alleged heavy-handed crackdowns amid increasing panic and protest over the coronavirus pandemic, according to advocates and recordings of detainees obtained by the Guardian.

A number of detainees have expressed concern they are not being properly cared for in packed detention centers. Former senior immigration officials and attorneys have called for the release of nonviolent detainees. Judges in New Jersey, New York and California have ordered the release of small numbers, based on health concerns.

“People are terrified for their lives and think that they’re going to die there,” said Phoebe Lytle, a law student volunteer who has spoken with detainees at US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) facilities in Louisiana. “I don’t think anyone is saying it in a light or flippant way.”

Jaclyn Cole, an outreach paralegal at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), said she was called on Tuesday by a Cuban asylum seeker who said officers dressed in riot gear were shooting rubber bullets and using chemical agents on detainees after a dispute with guards.

During the five-minute call to Pine Prairie Ice processing center, Cole said she heard between 10 and 15 shots.

Ice spokesperson Bryan D Cox did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He has previously denied that the privately operated facility possesses rubber bullets, after detainees have reported their use. Cox did confirm to Mother Jones that seven people at Pine Prairie were pepper-sprayed on Tuesday.

Elsewhere in Louisiana, guards at the LaSalle Ice center allegedly sprayed a man with what he called “toxic gas” on Monday after two other detainees cautioned detainees to forgo meals because food could carry Covid-19. The man was hospitalized, said Verónica Fernández, a project coordinator with the SPLC’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative.

Cox did not respond to a request for comment on that incident. He did confirm a separate use of force at LaSalle on Wednesday to Buzzfeed News.

Since Covid-19 started spreading through the US, health and immigration experts have expressed concern that Ice is unequipped to deal with the crisis. The US runs the largest immigration detention system in the world and there is a well-documented record of infections ballooning into outbreaks in such facilities. Now, coronavirus has infected some of the agency’s employees and detainees, which experts said was inevitable.

Two detainees in New Jersey Ice facilities and five employees at four facilities in Texas, Colorado and New Jersey have confirmed coronavirus cases, according to Ice. No cases have been publicly announced in southern states.

The Trump administration has massively expanded the use of immigration detention facilities, with hardline policies that have driven the detention population to record highs. States in the deep south have opened more new facilities than anywhere else.

Advocates say immigrants held in Louisiana suspect Covid-19 has reached their facilities as the state becomes a major virus hotspot. At Ice’s South Louisiana center, a woman alleged she saw officers in hazmat suits feeding someone through a slot in a door, Cole said. At LaSalle, Fernández said, a dorm has reportedly been quarantined, and detainees believe two people have the disease.

“They’re not giving people what they need to protect themselves, and that is social distancing,” said Fernández. “That’s not something people can do in detention.”

Ice has said detainees’ “health, welfare and safety … is one of the agency’s highest priorities”.

“Since the onset of reports of Covid-19, Ice epidemiologists have been tracking the outbreak, regularly updating infection prevention and control protocols, and issuing guidance to Ice Health Service Corps (IHSC) staff for the screening and management of potential exposure among detainees,” according to the agency’s website.

Some detainees believe they will not receive fair treatment in government care. In a recorded call from Richwood correctional center in Louisiana, released by the Southeast Immigrant Rights Network and the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice and shared with the Guardian, one detainee said: “They’re not going to take a facemask from anyone, from any American, to put it on an immigrant. This means we are going to die.”

Advocates say anyone in detention is likely to have a compromised immune system, but some also have pre-existing conditions. Lytle said she spoke to a 61-year-old asthmatic at Jackson Parish correctional center, another facility used by Ice in Louisiana, whom she said was “very, very worried” and called to tell her people in his dorm were refusing meals.

A woman named Denisse, whose husband is at Stewart detention center in Georgia, feared what might happen as new detainees arrived and guards came and went.

“It’s just spreading rapidly, you know?” Denisse said. “And his immune system is already weak.”

Her husband has a pre-existing condition that has become worse since he arrived at the facility in September, she said, adding that he recently underwent a procedure and uses a catheter. She shook with relief when she learned he would be released on Monday. The reason for his release was unclear.

Hilda Jorge Perez, whose husband is at Richwood, said he had heart problems and high blood pressure. She worried that if he got infected, she would not be able to see him.

Perez’s husband was among at least 60 people who staged a hunger strike earlier this week. The protesters were forced to end the strike after officials told them they would be put in Ice’s version of solitary confinement and have phone and television privileges removed, Perez said.

Detainees at Stewart planned a similar strike. They demanded they either be released or deported instead of waiting to be infected, according to recordings of calls provided by a North Carolina advocacy group.

“We’re not going to eat until Ice comes here and gives us answers, and gives us a solution,” one man said.

A spokesperson for Ice accused advocates of circulating rumors about a hunger strike at Stewart, which she said never happened.

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Immigration System Slowdown Keeps Some Doctors From Coronavirus Front Lines – NPR

An improvised hospital room at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which is being turned into a hospital to help fight coronavirus cases in New York City. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images hide caption

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Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

From the hospital where he works in South Carolina, Dr. Kiran Nagarajan has been watching the coronavirus crisis explode in other parts of the country. But, like many other immigrant doctors, he can’t do anything about it.

“There’s a dire need of physicians especially in places like New York, New Jersey,” Nagarajan said. “I wish I can go and help there.”

Dr. Nagarajan is here on a temporary visa — one that only allows him to work at the hospital in South Carolina that hired him. He often travels to New Jersey, where his wife works. Near the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

“I’m literally doing nothing there,” he said. “But I can’t work.”

One in four doctors in the U.S. is an immigrant. Thousands of them arrive every year to train in the U.S., and stay to work on temporary visas. Many of them, like Nagarajan, want to be on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak.

But they can’t easily transfer their visas to practice in another hospital because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has closed offices to the public and cut back on services.

Coronavirus is disrupting the immigration system at nearly every level. Green card and citizenship interviews are also suspended. Some immigration courts have closed, but others are still open — over the objections of immigration judges and lawyers.

And it’s not just legal immigrants who are affected. Immigrants in the country illegally are afraid of being deported if they come forward to get tested and treated for coronavirus.

“We’re dealing with those kinds of issues day in, day out, of how you actually continue on when necessary functions in the immigration system are not happening,” said Greg Siskind, founding partner of the immigration law firm Siskind Susser PC in Tennessee.

Siskind said the USCIS work slowdown means longer processing times for work visas, and State Department actions in response to coronavirus are also having an impact.

A huge problem is looming this summer, Siskind said, when 4,000 international doctors are supposed to begin their residencies at U.S. hospitals. But U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide have suspended routine visa processing, so those doctors may not get their visas in time.

“We’re hearing now from teaching hospitals that we represent that are in panic mode,” he said.

As for undocumented immigrants, President Trump was asked earlier this week if they could show up at testing sites without fear. Trump said yes, they can. “And if that’s not the policy, I’ll make it the policy,” he said.

But his administration has been sending mixed signals. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it is suspending most arrests, and focusing only on criminals. Then a top Homeland Security official, Ken Cuccinelli, emphasized that deportations would continue.

Advocates say immigrants don’t know what to believe.

“You can imagine the confusion and terror that’s rippling through the immigrant community at this point,” said Doug Rand, a former Obama administration official and co-founder of the law firm Boundless Immigration.

Some legal immigrants fear they could become targets of ICE enforcement if their visas expire while immigration offices are closed.

Rana Akkawi is an immigrant from Lebanon who’s teaching at a school in Memphis. She was supposed to get married this weekend to her boyfriend, a U.S. citizen.

“We had to cancel the wedding. We didn’t want to put anyone’s life at risk,” Akkawi said. “I am not regretting it. But at the same time I’m faced with this reality — what am I going to do?”

Akkawi’s visa expires at the end of the school year, so she planned to apply for a green card. But to get it, Akkawi still has to get married. Now she’s scrambling to find someone who can perform the wedding, and she’s finding she can’t afford to be picky if she wants to stay here with her husband.

“My boyfriend and I are both born into Christian families. … We don’t practice religion. But I might have a rabbi marry me right now,” she said with a laugh.

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Immigrant Doctors Want To Help Fight Coronavirus Outbreak, But Can’t – NPR

Many immigrant doctors who want to help fight the coronavirus outbreak find they can’t because of limits on their work visas. It’s just one way the pandemic is affecting immigrant communities.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

One in 4 doctors in the U.S. is an immigrant. Many want to be on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak but can’t because their work visas won’t allow it. As NPR’s Joel Rose reports, that’s just one way immigrant communities are affected.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: From the hospital where he works in South Carolina, Dr. Kiran Nagarajan has been watching the coronavirus crisis explode in other parts of the country.

KIRAN NAGARAJAN: There’s dire need of physicians, especially in places like New York, New Jersey. I wish I can go and help there.

ROSE: But like many other doctors, he can’t. Dr. Nagarajan is here on a temporary visa, one that only allows him to work at the hospital in South Carolina that hired him. He often travels to New Jersey, where his wife works, near the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. He just can’t work there.

NAGARAJAN: I’m literally doing nothing there, but I can’t work (laughter).

ROSE: So you just will be locked down in your house when you could be in the hospital trying to help.

NAGARAJAN: Absolutely. That’s very true.

ROSE: There are thousands of doctors from India and elsewhere who are working in the U.S. on temporary visas like Nagarajan’s. If they want to change jobs while they’re here, they have to apply to transfer their visas. But last week, the agency in charge of legal immigration, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, closed its offices to the public and cut back on services. That means much longer processing times for work visas. And that’s just one concern.

GREG SISKIND: We’re hearing now from teaching hospitals that we represent that are in panic mode.

ROSE: Greg Siskind is an immigration lawyer in Tennessee. He’s talking about a huge problem looming this summer, when 4,000 international doctors are supposed to begin their residencies at U.S. hospitals. But work at U.S. Embassies abroad has slowed, so those doctors may not get their visas in time.

SISKIND: We’re dealing with those kinds of issues day in, day out of how you actually continue on when necessary functions in the immigration system are not happening.

ROSE: Coronavirus is disrupting the immigration system at nearly every level. Green card and citizenship interviews are also suspended. And it’s not just legal immigrants who are affected. Immigrants in the country illegally are afraid of being deported if they come forward to get tested and treated for coronavirus. President Trump was asked about that earlier this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are undocumented persons welcome at testing sites? And can they show up and be tested without fear?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yes. I’ll answer that. And if that’s not the policy, I’ll make it the policy.

ROSE: But his administration has been sending mixed signals. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it is suspending most arrests and focusing only on criminals. Then, an administration official emphasized that deportations would continue. Advocates say immigrants don’t know what to believe.

Doug Rand is a former Obama administration official who now runs an immigration law firm.

DOUG RAND: You can imagine the confusion and terror that’s rippling through the immigrant community at this point.

ROSE: And some legal immigrants fear they could become targets if their visas expire while immigration offices are closed. Rana Akkawi is an immigrant from Lebanon who’s teaching at a school in Memphis. She was supposed to get married this week to her boyfriend, a U.S. citizen.

RANA AKKAWI: We had to cancel the wedding. We didn’t want to put anyone’s life at risk. But at the same time, I’m faced with this reality that – what am I going to do?

ROSE: Akkawi’s visa expires at the end of the school year, so she planned to apply for a green card. But to get it, Akkawi she still has to get married. Now she’s scrambling to find someone who can perform the wedding.

AKKAWI: My boyfriend and I are both born into Christian families but we don’t practice religion. But I might have (laughter) a rabbi marry me right now.

ROSE: Akkawi says she can’t afford to be picky if she wants to stay here with her husband.

Joel Rose, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO’S “GLIDER”)

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The COVID-19 pandemic is no excuse to crack down on immigration – The Verge

To get myself through the pandemic, I’ve been summoning everything I’ve learned about surviving in a new world as an immigrant. I left the Philippines as a kid to join my parents in California. “Walang tiyaga, walang nilaga,” my grandma used to say. Strictly translated, it means “no perseverance, no stew.” That lesson on weathering hardship recently took on new meaning.

I’m not just worried about the virus. Reports of hate crimes against Asian Americans are up, while President Trump continues to characterize the disease as “foreign” and “Chinese.” Some of my friends are worried about heading outside not only because of the virus, but because of the racist slurs hurled at them.

Filipinos, like other immigrant groups, tend to be overrepresented in jobs on the front lines of the pandemic. The Philippines sends more nurses abroad to staff the world’s health care systems than any other country in the world. Filipinos also make up a third of all cruise ship workers and, in China, are the largest group of migrant domestic workers. The service industry that delivers food to our doorsteps relies on immigrants, too.

Many of the neighborhoods where people of color and immigrants live have more air pollution, which can be deadly during outbreaks of a virus that affects the lungs. For instance, Latinos are over 51 percent more likely to live in counties with dangerous levels of smog than non-Hispanic whites. That can lead to chronic conditions such as asthma that make someone especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Pollution has also been linked to heart disease; people with serious heart conditions are also at higher risk of getting seriously sick from COVID-19.

There’s more. Some immigrants are afraid to seek care because they are worried that they will endanger their own immigration status by doing so. Under a new rule, a person who uses public benefits like Medicaid can be denied a green card. This doesn’t apply to permanent residents renewing their green cards, but misinformation is already stopping people from getting care. After pushback from Democrats, US Citizenship and Immigration Services said it wouldn’t penalize green card applicants for getting treatment or testing for COVID-19. ICE announced on the 18th that it won’t “carry out enforcement operations at or near” health care facilities; advocates and doctors worried that the fear of getting swept up by ICE might keep people from getting care. But that might not matter if people are too afraid to see a doctor.

With any disaster, some people are hit first and worst. There are parallels between the COVID-19 pandemic and environmental injustice, says Mustafa Santiago Ali, who led the EPA’s efforts to address environmental racism and injustice under the Obama administration. In both crises, the people facing the greatest risk are often people of color, working class families, and the poor. “More of our folks are going to die disproportionately,” he says, meaning black, brown, and indigenous communities. The people calling the shots don’t come from the places that are most affected — so they often don’t understand what’s happening on the ground. They might even make decisions that make things worse.

Now, the Trump administration is using the pandemic as an excuse to push hard-line immigration policies it would have pursued anyway, says Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. “[They’re] really taking advantage of this moment, even though it’s a questionable decision to pour resources into that,” she says. “Maybe we shouldn’t be concentrating more on finding masks for doctors and nurses than we should be on kicking asylum seekers out of the country.”

Pierce thinks more people will lose their work authorization or violate their visas because US Citizenship and Immigration Services has shut down its offices and suspended in-person meetings that immigrants must attend to keep their legal status. That means more people could face deportation or detention in facilities that, like prisons, can become hotbeds for disease. While immigrant rights advocates are calling for detention centers to shut down, the Trump administration is using them to fearmonger.

People in detention could pass the virus on to customs and border patrol officers, and “even the United States population as a whole,” US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said in a March 20th briefing on the pandemic. “Migrants in [detention] facilities are drawing on an American healthcare system that is already fighting the coronavirus pandemic,” he added. That day, the administration announced it would begin to remove anyone crossing US borders illegally, including people seeking asylum, immediately without due process.

I’ve heard this crap my whole life: that immigrants take more than we give — whether that’s overburdening health care, snatching jobs, or whatever — so let’s send them away. Racism and xenophobia has always threatened my existence in this country.

That “us versus them” flavor of fearmongering is common in epidemics. Italian immigrants were scapegoats for the New York City polio epidemics in 1907 and 1916. Cholera was called “Asiatic cholera” in the 1800s and tuberculosis called the “Jewish disease” in the 1900s. Thousands of people died from AIDS before the Reagan administration began taking the epidemic seriously in the mid 1980s, after making callous jokes about the disease referred to as “gay plague.”

“With this new virus, something was triggered that is always latently there, under the surface, which is this fear of the other and the idea that bad things come from elsewhere,” York University professor Roger Keil told The Verge in February.

The virus is already spreading in the US; it’s useless to scapegoat migrants at our borders when we now have more cases of COVID-19 than any other country in the world. The Latin American country with the most cases of COVID-19 is Brazil, which had 2,433 cases on the 26th — just over a tenth of the number of infections in New York City alone. It seems likelier that migrants in detention centers will get sick here. And deporting people who were infected in the US back to other countries means spreading the disease further.

Shifting blame onto others does nothing to keep Americans, including myself, safe. It’s a waste of energy when every moment matters in our response to the crisis. I’ve watched New York City’s local officials plead daily for ventilators and federal assistance. As someone who calls this place home, this is terrifying. My mom and many of my aunties are nurses in the US; they need more masks and medical supplies to keep people healthy.

Division only makes dealing with disaster harder, both Ali and Pierce told me. Another lesson I’ve learned from my community is that the only way we beat the odds is when we show up for each other. My aunt, uncles, cousins, and grandmothers stepped in to take care of me in the Philippines until my parents were on solid footing and could send for me. Together, they got me here to where I am today. The only way to get through this crisis will be to do so together, too. My mom and aunties will take care of you when you get sick. Make sure to take care of them, too. They’re immigrants, and we’ll need them.

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