Colorado immigration attorneys are now required by federal officials to wear gloves, masks and eye protection to represent clients in courtrooms inside the Aurora detention center — the same equipment so desperately needed by medical professionals treating patients with the coronavirus.

The mandate from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement means attorneys must decide whether they should find and buy the protective gear in short supply or risk their client’s case by not appearing in court if they can’t arrange remote hearings.

Many are requesting that judges allow them to appear by phone, but if that’s not granted then their clients could be going to court without counsel. That would likely mean clients would spend more time detained and could increase risk for deportation, attorneys said.

“Basically what they’re doing is cutting off access to counsel,” Denver immigration attorney Aaron Hall said. “I think every attorney is going to make tough decisions on this.”

The guidance issued Saturday by ICE states attorneys need personal protective equipment, including air-filtering N95 masks, for any visits to a detention facility with in-person contact. Because the courtrooms in the Aurora detention center are accessed by walking through the facility, attorneys going to court must outfit themselves to appear. Individual judges can then decide whether lawyers must continue to wear the gear during the hearing.

An ICE spokeswoman did not answer a question Tuesday about what would happen should an attorney not be able to acquire the needed gear.

Dave Maddux, special projects manager for ...

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Dave Maddux, special projects manager for Project Cure, steadies a pallet of donated goods onto a truck during a drive to collect personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies to address the shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic in front Empower Field at Mile High on March 22, 2020 in Denver. Organizers say PPE supplies are in a “critical shortage” amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The new guidance comes as Colorado’s nurses and doctors working in respiratory hospital wards are reusing masks to preserve supplies. The governor estimated that state medical workers use about 70,000 masks per day, and some Coloradans have turned to making homemade masks from fabric.

Hall said he has a hearing scheduled for Friday in the Aurora detention court. He’s asked the judge for permission to appear by phone, but if that’s not granted, he’s still not going to buy masks or gloves.

“I’m not trying to get the gear that would be necessary to enter the court,” he said. “I think medical personnel need it to the extent that it’s available.”

To keep hearings going in a safe manner without the need for protective gear, federal immigration court judges should issue a broad order allowing all attorneys to appear by phone, said Alex Gavern, a Denver immigration attorney.

“I think we’re getting to the point where the ethical considerations for an attorney are being stretched as far as they possibly can,” Gavern said.

Authorities could also shut down the courts, like they did for non-detained immigrants, and release as many people as possible from detention, Hall said. The detainees in the Aurora facility are being held on civil, not criminal charges.

A large swath of organizations representing people who work in the immigration courts — including the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the National Association of Immigration Judges and a union representing immigration prosecutors — have called on the federal government to close all immigration courts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The federal Executive Office for Immigration Review postponed hearings for immigrants not in detention, but that was not enough, the groups said Sunday in a joint letter.



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