March 12, 2020

Senators Warren and Markey Raise Concerns about the Justice Department’s Handling of COVID-19 Prevention Efforts in Immigration Courts

Office within DOJ ordered immigration court judges and staff to remove all posters with public health information about COVID-19; quickly reversed decision after public reports; Lawmakers urge the DOJ office to prioritize public health, require the posting of the CDC guidance in immigration courts

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. -- United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) regarding reports that EOIR ordered immigration court judges and staff to remove from EOIR facilities—which includes immigration courts—all posters with public health information about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). EOIR quickly reversed this decision in response to a news report, but the incident left lawmakers concerned that COVID-19-related policy decisions appear to be driven primarily by political—rather than public health—considerations, and that this episode reflects a lack of coordination in the federal government’s response to the virus.

“It is past time for Executive Branch departments to prioritize public health considerations and make their decisions on the basis of recommendations from qualified authorities, such as the CDC, rather than restricting information and creating needless controversy,” the lawmakers wrote. “We therefore urge EOIR to require the posting of the CDC signage, in English and Spanish, as well as any other relevant languages, in courtrooms and waiting areas to raise awareness of COVID-19 and how to avoid transmitting and contracting it.”

In addition to urging that the COVID-19 information and prevention signage be posted, the lawmakers asked EOIR a series of questions regarding its directive to remove COVID-19 posters, its reversal of that decision, and its efforts to protect immigration judges, support staff, immigrants, attorneys, and the public from the spread of COVID-19. The senators requested responses to their questions by March 18, 2020.

Senator Warren has been active in urging the administration to take steps to protect all communities—including immigrant communities—from the spread of COVID-19. On March 5, 2020, she led a letter urging the Trump Administration to suspend all immigration enforcement actions in and around hospitals and other medical facilities. She has also unveiled the Prioritizing Pandemic Prevention Act, legislation to de-fund the border wall and direct those funds to combating COVID-19.