The Elizabeth Immigration Court will be reopened on Friday after it was closed earlier this week, multiple sources have told Documented, and judges have been asked to volunteer to appear at the court.
According to Allan Pollack, an immigration attorney and former chair of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, attorneys were told on Thursday by their clients in the Elizabeth Detention Center that they would need to appear on Friday. Pollack received further confirmation from the court.
The Department of Justice has come under fire from immigration lawyers, immigration judges and prosecutors for its handling of the immigration courts during the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the nation. After pressure from a range of groups, the Executive Office for Immigration Review, an agency within the DOJ that oversees the courts, postponed all non-detained hearings. However, hearings for people in detention are still moving forward across the country.
EOIR has drawn further criticism for closing and reopening courts in response to staffers testing positive for COVID-19. The Varick Street immigration court was closed for a day last week when a court staffer tested positive for COVID-19. It was then reopened.
Similarly, the Elizabeth Immigration Court was closed on Monday. EOIR stated on Twitter that this was due to the Elizabeth Detention Center being closed. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed to Documented that the facility was in-fact open. The reason it was closed remains unclear.
EOIR did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.
All announcements about court closures have also been made on Twitter, often close to midnight. Leaving immigration lawyers and prosecutors confused.
According to the Executive Vice President of the National Association Immigration Judges Amiena Khan, judges have been asked to volunteer to appear in the Elizabeth Immigration Court on Friday. She said that they prefer being given the option to volunteer as opposed to being ordered to appear. However, NAIJ supports judges making decisions based on their own personal situations.
“I don’t know what assurances this agency is giving its employees,” Khan said, speaking in her capacity with NAIJ. “We still have no understanding of the standards that EOIR is utilizing,” to decide on court closures, Khan added.
The American Immigration Lawyers Association and other immigration lawyer groups filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Monday calling on the DOJ to take new measures in the court. The lawsuit calls for the suspension of all in-person hearings for detained immigrants and the release of immigrants from detention who do not have access to adequate remote communication, among other things.