Washington D.C.—Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, along with Colorado U.S. Representatives Joe Neguse (D), Ed Perlmutter (D), Diana DeGette (D), and Jason Crow (D) sent a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) highlighting grave due process issues in the Aurora Immigration Courtroom and requesting immediate fixes to ensure fairness during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis. The letter addressed to James McHenry, Director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, and Matthew Albence, Acting Director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement asks that additional due process measures be implemented for court proceedings that have been moved to the telephone due to the virus.
“We write to express deep concern regarding reports of due process issues inside the Aurora Immigration Courtroom as a result of COVID-19,” wrote Bennet and his colleagues. “To ensure as safe an environment as possible, immigration court hearings in the Aurora facility have been increasingly held by telephone, unavoidably affecting the due process rights of respondents. Additionally, due to current courtroom rules and practices, counsels’ ability to provide a strong defense for these complex, adversarial trials over the phone is greatly diminished.”
To ensure that attorneys are not forced to choose between limiting due process of their clients and putting them and their loved one’s safety at risk by attending hearings in-person, Bennet and his colleagues urge the implementation of changes inside the courtroom to address due process concerns, including:
- Permitting respondents to request a brief recess to consult with an attorney via telephone;
- Requiring that any documents presented in the courtroom be scanned and emailed to counsel either in advance or during a recess to permit counsel to review the documents and offer objections;
- Encouraging judges to address issues arising in the courtroom that the attorney cannot witness when appearing via phone and encouraging judges to describe what is happening in the courtroom for the record;
- Providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to all court visitors, including attorneys, witnesses, family members, clergy, and law enforcement;
- And ensuring that attorneys have timely access to court documents by scanning and emailing copies of immigration court files to counsel.
Additionally, the letter calls for safety measures to be implemented in the courtroom that comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to reduce the spread of the virus, including:
- Measures to avoid mixing people from different dormitories in the court holding cell, hallway, and courtrooms;
- Social distancing procedures;
- Sanitization of the respondent’s table, chair, and microphone between each hearing; and
- And the provision of PPE to GEO court officers, Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) staff, and detained people when attending court.
The text of the letter is available HERE.