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Federal Judge Denies Effort To Change Immigration Courts Amid COVID-19 Crisis

<p>The federal courthouse in downtown Portland.</p>
<p>The federal courthouse in downtown Portland.</p>

A federal judge in Portland denied efforts Wednesday that would have forced the nation's immigration courts to implement measures that further prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Portland-based Innovation Law Lab, among others, sued the Trump administration over what they say is a patchwork of confusing and inconsistent measures that put the public at risk during a global pandemic.

They had asked the court to limit person-to-person interactions in immigration courts, similar to measures adopted in other courts across the country. 

During the hearing — held via telephone to adhere to the federal court system's own social distancing orders — immigration advocates said they needed a temporary restraining order to prevent people from being compelled to show up at court if they’re worried about contracting COVID-19. They also raised issues with the immigration court system's ability and willingness to hold remote hearings, as well as practices in some courts where immigration detainees are often moved in large groups.

In her ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Karin Immergut noted the government had addressed some of the concerns raised by immigration groups, like being able to file court documents remotely.

She also took issue with the underlying legal framework raised by the immigration groups and questioned whether she had the jurisdiction to make such a ruling.

"The COVID-19 global pandemic is very serious issue," Immergut said. "I don’t mean to minimize the concerns raised."

Immergut urged flexibility on the part of immigration courts to evolve during the crisis, “as we’re all having to do.”

Attorneys for the government, representing the agency that runs the nation’s immigration courts, argued the groups were effectively trying to shut down immigration courts nationwide. They said U.S. immigration courts have had a swift and tailored approach to dealing with COVID-19.

Immergut was appointed to the federal bench last year by President Trump.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

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