The Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review late Sunday postponed preliminary hearings for people who aren’t in custody through April 10. While significant, the order doesn’t extend to courts in immigration detention centers or to the government’s “Migrant Protection Protocols” policy to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico for hearings in the U.S. It also didn’t apply to final hearings which determine whether migrants are granted asylum.
The announcement came hours after judges and attorneys called for all courts to close for two to four weeks.
“The (Justice Department) is failing to meet its obligations to ensure a safe and healthy environment within our Immigration Courts,” read a joint statement by the National Association of Immigration Judges, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the American Federation of Government Employees Local 511, which represents Homeland Security Department attorneys.
Some asylum-seekers in the program known informally as “Remain in Mexico” live in squalid conditions outside in the Mexican border city of Matamoros. Others live in crowded migrant shelters in Mexico.
The number of people on a typical day in immigration court exceeds 50, said Elise Wilkinson, a Houston-area immigration attorney. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday recommended that the public avoid gatherings larger than 10 people over the next 15 days.
The judge’s union pressed Monday for additional action.