Mayor Durkan and Council President González Urge the Department of Justice to Close the Seattle Immigration Court and Extend Immigration Deadlines During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Seattle (March 27, 2020) – Seattle Mayor and former U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan and Council President M. Lorena González join community leaders and legal service providers in calling for the closure of the Seattle Immigration Court, given the current COVID-19 pandemic and the Governor’s recent “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” Order.

“This is both a public health violation and a human rights issue,” said Mayor Durkan. “It is reckless and irresponsible for the Trump administration to allow immigration courts to operate despite an active pandemic and multiple states’ orders for residents to stay at home. We are united here and across the country in demanding that the Department of Justice immediately reverse the decision to re-open the Seattle Immigration Court during this public health emergency. I urge the DOJ to extend immigration court filing deadlines in light of this global public health emergency, so immigrants and their legal representatives do not have to choose between protecting their health and meeting a deadline in a civil immigration proceeding.”

“At a time when Washington residents are being asked to stay at home unless absolutely essential, it is unconscionable that we are forcing our immigrant families to show up in crowded immigration courts while putting their and their families’ health at risk,” said Council President M. Lorena González (Position 9, Citywide). “Additionally, immigration detention centers should release detainees so they can return home and be healthy and safe with their families. Both of these failures during a pandemic have magnified the need for comprehensive immigration reform that existed prior to this crisis. Our immigrant families deserve better, and the Department of Justice and the Trump administration should not put them in unnecessary danger during a public health crisis just to make a political statement.”

The DOJ Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) announced on March 13 that the court would be closed through April 10, reportedly because an individual at the court had been exposed to COVID-19. In an unprecedented and ill-advised decision, on March 25, DOJ EOIR announced that the Seattle immigration court would be re-opening the next day and that court filings would be due on March 30, much sooner than the original April 13 reopening.

In a letter to EOIR director James McHenry, the Washington Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA-WA) and several Seattle-based nonprofit organizations voiced their frustration with the announcement, pointing out that the sudden opening “forces respondents and their representatives to scramble to complete filings in as little as 48 hours—given the need to mail packages by tomorrow—that they reasonably assumed would not be due until April 13.” The letter outlines how this abruptly announced filing deadline will force attorneys and their clients to have to return to legal offices across Washington despite the current “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order. A very real consequence of DOJ’s action is that attorneys and their clients will have to put their health at risk during this coronavirus pandemic.

To help immigrant and refugee communities significantly impacted by COVID-19 in Seattle, the City of Seattle created a new centralized website where residents can find information about relief programs offered by the City, the County and the State. This site has automatic translate functionality for quick language access and pulls together resources for workers, artists, small businesses, nonprofits, parents, homeowners, and community members to make it easier for City of Seattle residents to find assistance during this unprecedented public health crisis: http://www.seattle.gov/mayor/covid-19.