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Seattle immigration court shut down over coronavirus

The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) says it will close Seattle’s immigration court until at least April 10 after reports of second-hand exposure to the coronavirus, which caused a temporary shutdown earlier in the week.

The EOIR says it will also postpone other hearings which often result in large groups of people for immigrants who are not in custody. It is the first action taken in response to the rising number of coronavirus cases in the United States.

Courts to remain open in other areas, for now

The Associated Press reports immigration officials are closely monitoring and evaluating the situation. For now, courts will remain open in other areas where the virus has struck, such as Boston, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Newark, New Jersey, and Sacramento, California.

However, “master calendar” dates will be postponed in those cities. The EOIR says other courts across the U.S. will operate as scheduled, but that could change depending upon the spread of the virus. A union representing immigration judges is asking for more safeguards to be put in place to protect judges and employees.

Questions arise over testing for the virus

As of Mar. 13, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the immigration system, but it’s not clear how frequently tests have been performed, or if any have been done at all. The concern is high as some migrants enter the U.S. sick and often move from facility to facility along the border.

Some judges are implementing their own strategies to lower the risk of contracting the virus, but the union says the process is cumbersome due to governmental red tape. Delays and closures are expected to make an already backlogged system worse. There are currently more than 1 million cases waiting to be heard in the nation's 68 immigration courts.

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