Immigration court judges opt out due to coronavirus fears

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Many immigrants have been dealing with numerous delays for their cases to be resolved due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of them refugees awaiting hearings due to a lack of immigration judges even before the pandemic.

If a person is not currently detained by immigration authorities, it would be nearly impossible to get a hearing in front of an immigration judge at this time.

"As you can imagine, immigration judges are not working under normal circumstances," said Ricardo Ramírez, an immigration attorney in the Rio Grande Valley. "Many [immigration judges] are working from home, which means cases continue to pile-up"

Since March, some judges were able to excuse themselves from being in the courtroom for fear of contracting the coronavirus.

The greatest delays include asylum cases, impacting people like those waiting for their day in court at the migrant camp in Matamoros.

That is why south Texas congressman Henry Cuéllar (TX-28) said he was able to set aside a portion of next year's federal budget, so over 100 new immigration judge could be hired.

Along with the judges, more legal assistants and interpreters would be hired as well.

"Some judges that [were] given this leave in March of this year, [have] handled zero cases," Rep. Cuéllar said. "I emphasize - zero cases since March"

On average, the wait time for a hearing in front of an immigration judge can be as much as 759 days. In Texas, it can up to 793 days. That's nearly two years of waiting.

More than $700 million were set aside for the hiring of new immigration judges, along with the creation of new physical courtroom space in order to hear cases.

The funds would also go into buying the necessary technology, so that judges can work on cases from home.


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