DOJ Faces Backlash For Ordering COVID-19 Posters Out Of Immigration Courts

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The Justice Department on Monday ordered immigration courts to remove posters on stopping the spread of COVID-19, prompting public outcry. The department ultimately walked back the order after a judges union publicized it.

The posters in question, according to the National Association of Immigration Judges, were produced by the Centers for Disease Control and laid out basic COVID-19 symptoms and simple steps on how to avoid spreading germs. (See the posters below.)

But within hours of the union distributing the posters to immigration judges nationwide and encouraging them to post them in public areas, among other steps meant to combat the virus, the Justice Department’s top immigration judge struck back with an email of his own. (Immigration judges are housed in the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, not the Judicial Branch.)

“This is just a reminder that immigration judges do not have the authority to post, or ask you to post, signage for their individual courtrooms or the waiting areas,” acting chief immigration judge Christopher A. Santoro told court administrators, The Miami Herald reported.

“Per our leadership, the CDC flyer is not authorized for posting in the immigration courts. If you see one (attached), please remove it. Thank you.”

The judges union went public with the order, announcing that court staff had been ordered to remove the information and adding, “No, this is not a parody account.”

As public pressure intensified, the DOJ appeared to walk back its position, BuzzFeed News and the Herald reported.

“[T]he signs shouldn’t have been removed,” a DOJ spokesperson told the Herald. “It’s now being rectified.”

The episode is part of a years-long struggle between the judges union and the Justice Department, one that’s grown more bitter as the Trump-era DOJ pressures judges to review more immigration cases in less time.

The union’s letter to judges, and its prior communications with EOIR, made clear that the ill will has spread to virus response.

On March 9, ahead of its letter to members, the union’s president Judge Ashley Tabaddor wrote to Santoro, the acting chief judge, expressing frustration with the COVID-19 response in immigration courts.

“I write to follow up and expand on prior communications the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) has had with EOIR regarding guidance and resources related to COVID-19,” Tabaddor wrote. “We have received almost none of either.”

See the posters the judges union says the Justice Department ordered removed, below:

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