Weekly Immigration Round-Up: Landlord Sues Elizabeth, New Jersey, Detention Center; USCIS Agrees to Speed Up Employment Applications for Spouses of Temporary Workers; Federal Court Grants Immigration Judges More Power to Close Removal Cases
New Jersey ICE Detention Center Sued Over Dangerous Conditions
This week, the owner of a property currently being used as an immigration detention facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey, filed a lawsuit against CoreCivic, the company that maintains the prison. The lawsuit alleges that CoreCivic violated the conditions of its tenancy by failing to follow applicable regulations instituted to stop the spread of COVID-19 among its inmates.
CoreCivic is contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain immigrants at facilities across the United States. The Elizabeth Detention Center has had more occurrences of COVID-19 cases than other ICE facilities in the mid-Atlantic region, including 51 positive cases among people in custody, and the deaths of security and medical personnel. The lawsuit asserts that the “failure to implement” mandated safety measures “represents not only a threat to the health, safety, and wellbeing of those individuals detained within the [prison], but also a breach of the ICE Contract and, therefore, its lease agreement.”
This is not the first lawsuit related to the poor conditions at the Elizabeth Detention Center during the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2020, immigrant detainees sued for immediate release from the prison, claiming that the facility was not taking precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. Furthermore, a 2018 report detailed numerous substandard conditions, including no meaningful outdoor space, bathrooms separated by walls only three feet tall, worms, and maggots in the shower areas, poor ventilation, dirty food dishes, and insufficient sanitary pads for female detainees.
No Biometric Screening for Certain Work Permit Applicants
The White House has announced that it will rescind a Trump-era rule requiring the spouses of immigrants with work visas in the United States to have their biometrics captured in order to obtain employment authorization themselves.
Every year, tens of thousands of immigrants are sponsored by U.S. entities to work in specialty occupations requiring at least a bachelor’s degree in their field, or by global companies to transfer from a foreign office to a U.S. branch to work in a managerial or highly skilled position. The spouses of those individuals may request their own employment authorization, but frequently faced many months of delays in their applications. A federal lawsuit filed earlier this year points out that employment is frequently granted for only one year at a time, and that the significant delays made it functionally impossible to maintain continuous employment authorization. This can lead to disruption and loss of employment. The lawsuit further alleged that although federal law requires the applications to be adjudicated within 30 days, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had given lower priority to work permit requests, leading to extensive delays and hardships.
USCIS confirmed that it will stop requiring biometrics appointments on May 17.
Federal Court Affirms Immigration Judges’ Power to Close Deportation Cases in New Jersey and Pennsylvania
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals, seated in Philadelphia, ruled this week that immigration judges have the authority to administratively close deportation cases while immigrants’ applications for lawful status remain pending with other government agencies. The ruling, which applies to all immigrants in court proceedings in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, rejected a conclusion made by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The Third Circuit found that the former Attorney General incorrectly concluded that the longstanding practice of judges removing cases from their dockets was beyond their authority and that closing cases prevented the ultimate disposition of the case. The court stated that the decision to temporarily close removal proceedings did not necessarily impede the disposition. On the contrary, judges frequently closed cases so immigrants could apply for status with the Department of Homeland Security, which, if granted, would render their removal proceedings moot, and more efficiently reach a conclusion in the case.
This decision now joins two other federal courts of appeal in rejecting the former Attorney General’s decision.