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Immigration lawyers seek video court appearances amid virus

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) – Immigration lawyers in New Jersey filed a lawsuit Friday seeking to keep them from having to appear in immigration court during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The New Jersey chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and attorneys Michael DiRaimondo, Brian O’Neill and Elizabeth Trinidad claim the federal government is risking their health by requiring them to appear in the Newark Immigration Court for clients who are not being detained.

In papers filed in U.S. District Court, the lawyers argued the court does not provide the option to use video conference technology, even though it has been successfully used in other federal and state courts to conduct hearings and trials.

They also said videoconferencing allows lawyers and the court to share documents.

“The Newark Immigration Court is no stranger to the devastating effects of COVID-19,” the plaintiffs claim in court papers. “The coronavirus spread through the court before it closed in March, and COVID-19 illnesses tragically caused the deaths of both a longtime private immigration attorney and a staffer at the immigration prosecutor’s office,” they said.

The court resumed hearings on July 13.

The lawyers are asking a judge to stop in-person court appearances and to allow the use of videoconferencing until the pandemic no longer poses “an unreasonable risk” for the health of those who appear at hearings.

An email seeking comment was sent to the U.S. Justice Department.

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