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Immigration lawyers sue US govt over coronavirus risks

People wear protective masks as they walk past a Customs and Border Protection agent at San Ysidro port of entry on the Mexico-US border as seen from Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on March 21, 2020 - Guillermo Arias / ©AFP
People wear protective masks as they walk past a Customs and Border Protection agent at San Ysidro port of entry on the Mexico-US border as seen from Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on March 21, 2020 - Guillermo Arias / ©AFP

(AFP)

A US group representing immigration attorneys sued the US federal government on Monday to stop in-person immigration hearings and to obtain better protection for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) said that the government has refused to guarantee the safety of their members as well as due process for immigrants.

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The United States has the most cases of the new coronavirus, ahead of China and Italy, with more than 3,000 deaths and some 163,000 confirmed cases reported.

In a statement, the lawyers and other pro-immigrant groups said that they want to “suspend in-person immigration hearings for detained individuals and provide robust remote access alternatives for detained individuals who wish to proceed with their hearings for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

They also want guaranteed “secure and reliable remote communication between noncitizens in detention and their legal representatives,” as well as personal protective gear “for detained noncitizens and legal representatives who need to meet in person” with their clients in government-run facilities.

Additionally, they want the government to release detained immigrants who cannot properly communicate remotely with their attorneys or with the immigration court.

“Thousands of in-person court hearings continue and nearly 40,000 detainees are held in close quarters” in US custody, according to the American Immigration Council.

The AIC said in a statement that federal courts and the Bureau of Prisons have taken measures to minimize health risks.

However, they said the Department of Justice division overseeing immigration courts “has not taken the same protective measures and most immigration courts remain open for business, putting the health and safety of attorneys and clients at risk.

On Monday, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus called on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) to release their detainees to help prevent the deadly COVID-19 virus from spreading.

Trump, who is seeking reelection in November, has made cracking down on illegal immigration a top priority of his administration.

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