Welp, this is deeply disturbing. Among all the fear and misinformation, the quarantines and canceled events, the most reliable and oft-cited piece of advice from medical professionals is to wash your damn hands. Good advice pretty much all the time, but especially pertinent during a health crisis. So you’d think materials encouraging folks to wash their hands (and other hygiene tips) would be remarkably uncontroversial.
If you thought that, you’d be wrong.
Yup, that’s right, yesterday, the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ) said that the Department of Justice, via the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), has told immigration courts to remove CDC posters about the coronavirus.
The offending posters include this benign one:
And this one (Spanish versions of the materials were also posted):
As Law & Crime reports, the surprisingly controversial posters were torn down:
“The NAIJ sent a correspondence to the Agency and a separate one to the [Immigration Judges] with the CDC recommended posters,” NAIJ President Ashley Tabaddor told Law&Crime. “Shortly thereafter, we received notice from our judges that those who had chosen to post the posters were told that they can not do so and the posters were literally torn down.”
And, though this entire situation seems absurd (some have even questioned the authenticity of the story), Law & Crime has tracked down the emails documenting the EOIR’s decision:
In one such email, EOIR Deputy Chief Immigration Judge Christopher Santoro wrote:
“Earlier today the NAIJ sent a message to immigration judges suggesting that they post a CDC-generated coronavirus precaution flyer in public areas of the courts, to include doors to courtrooms. 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. 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.”
Another such email—from a different EOIR official—said the CDC posters “must be removed from all courts.”
If you think this sounds Kafkaesque, you aren’t alone. Angelo Guisado, a staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, “Consistent with fake hearing dates, show trials or no trials, and an abject lack of basic human decency, the Trump Administration continues to erode the already meager protections in our immigration system. Franz Kafka couldn’t write it any better (worse).”
Of course the “why” isn’t well known, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t speculation. As California Western Law Professor Danielle C. Jefferis said, “It’s irresponsible and potentially disastrous. And to what end? To risk the spread of what all signs point to a highly infectious disease so that people in proceedings can’t show up to court? It’s inexcusable.” Whether it was nefarious or just a petty office politics squabble, it is still not a great look.
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, and host of The Jabot podcast. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).