Despite ceasing ICE arrests, DOJ continues immigration court hearings in-person

Despite the outbreak, detention hearings are proceeding at immigration courts across the country, including in Boston, 25 Investigates has learned.

BOSTON — Despite the outbreak, detention hearings are proceeding at immigration courts across the country, including in Boston, 25 Investigates has learned.

Defense attorneys are now required to wear their own masks and gloves, diverting them from healthcare professionals.

“Everything is being pushed back right except the deportation machine,” Immigration attorney Todd Pomerleau said.

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He says detention hearings at Boston’s immigration court are creating legal obstacles for him and his clients and jeopardizing many people’s health.

“I think they should consider releasing a lot of people who would qualify for bond. There are many people detained who have clear immigration paths in the immigration court system,” Pomerleau said.

In response to the outbreak, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has halted all arrests, unless someone is a national security threat.

But The Department of Justice is moving forward with hearings for undocumented immigrants arrested before the coronavirus outbreak.

If attorneys wish to visit their clients in jails, ICE now requires visitors to supply their own personal protective equipment, like masks and gloves, diverting precious commodities from the healthcare facilities.

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous and unfounded to ask anyone to take away these medical supplies,” Pomerleau said.

This week, DOJ created an option for attorneys to represent their clients over the phone, but Pomerleau says that presents another challenge.

“You’re not allowed to object to any documents based on not being able to see them,” he said.

There’s no discovery in immigration court and, he adds, many witnesses could be under a shelter-in-place order depending on where they live.

“I think these hearings should be paused so long as it’s not compromising the individual client’s rights,” Pomerleau said.

He says the majority of his clients are being held for non-violent charges like overstaying visas or traffic violations.

He would like to see bond set for them on a case by case by case basis and during this crisis get non-violent offenders released on a GPS monitor.

We reached out to ICE about the concern over diverting protective equipment and whether they would pause any of these detention hearings amid the crisis. A representative responded and said ICE is reaching out to the Department of Justice for further guidance.

Meanwhile, there have been calls across the country for ICE to reevaluate how the hearings are proceeding.

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