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Immigration lawyers sue feds over risks of in-person coronavirus hearings

A group representing immigration attorneys sued the federal government Monday to stop in-person immigration hearings and to obtain better protection for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) said the government has refused to guarantee the safety of their members as well as due process for immigrants.

The United States has the most cases of the new coronavirus, ahead of China and Italy, with more than 164,000 confirmed infections and more than 3,100 deaths.

In a statement, the lawyers and other pro-immigrant groups said they want to "suspend in-person immigration hearings for detained individuals and provide robust remote access alternatives for detained individuals who wish to proceed with their hearings for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic."

They also want guaranteed "secure and reliable remote communication between noncitizens in detention and their legal representatives," as well as personal protective gear "for detained noncitizens and legal representatives who need to meet in person" with their clients in government-run facilities.

In addition, they want the government to release detained immigrants who cannot properly communicate remotely with their attorneys or with the immigration court.

"Thousands of in-person court hearings continue and nearly 40,000 detainees are held in close quarters" in U.S. custody, according to the American Immigration Council.

The AIC said in a statement that federal courts and the Bureau of Prisons have taken measures to minimize health risks.

However, they said the Department of Justice division overseeing immigration courts "has not taken the same protective measures and most immigration courts remain open for business, putting the health and safety of attorneys and clients at risk.

On Monday, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus called on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) to release its detainees to help prevent the deadly COVID-19 virus from spreading.

President Trump has long made cracking down on illegal immigration a top priority of his administration.

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