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Justice Department Watchdog Reviewing Decision to Keep Immigration Courts Open During Pandemic

CNN reports that the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General is reviewing the Trump administration’s decision to keep the nation’s immigration courts open while COVID-19 swept through the United States. EOIR came under criticism from immigration judges, attorneys, and ICE prosecutors for proceeding with immigration hearings despite social distancing guidelines and shelter-in-place orders

A federal judge ruled that the government cannot hide whether it uses social media surveillance tools.

The ACLU sued the DOJ in early 2019, arguing that after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the FBI wrongfully hid information on whether the government has social media surveillance records. Because acknowledging the use of social media surveillance would not reveal specific means of surveillance nor risk national security, Judge Chen ruled against the government, saying this should have been included in the information release. Several other agencies, including USCIS, ICE, and the State Department, have also acknowledged using social media surveillance. The ACLU emphasized that it is important to know the extent and capability of government surveillance, since being unable to speak freely harms immigrants and people of color in particular.

The Trump administration has notified landowners that it is surveying their land for the border wall.

The Trump administration is planning on using eminent domain to acquire private land in Texas to use for the border wall. On Thursday, the government sent Right of Entry letters to dozens of landowners informing them that it will be surveying the land. The owners must sign the letters for the government to be able to come onto the land, but if they don’t sign, the matter will be escalated to the DOJ to get court-ordered access. Acting CBP Commissioner Morgan stated that he is aware there will likely be litigation over the land acquisition, but thinks that the government is “on track” to get the 450 miles for the wall.

DOJ Seeks Termination of Immigration Judges Union, Further Undermining Court Independence

Last Friday, DOJ petitioned the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) in an effort to strip immigration judges of their right to be represented by a union. AILA Executive Director Benjamin Johnson called the petition “an effort to suppress the voices of immigration judges, who have denounced DOJ efforts to strip their authority.” House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) criticized the administration’s move to decertify the National Association of Immigration Judges, announcing plans to hold hearings to “develop a foundation for legislation to create an independent immigration court.”

DOJ Announces 311 New Assistant United States Attorney Positions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that DOJ is allocating 311 new Assistant United States Attorneys to assist in priority areas, including 35 additional immigration prosecutors. This is the largest increase of new Assistant U.S. Attorneys in decades.1:02 AM

Senate and House Democrats Request Investigation of Illegal Hiring Allegations at DOJ

Top Senate and House Democrats sent a letter to DOJ’s Inspector General, requesting an investigation into allegations that DOJ has targeted candidates and delayed job offers for immigration judge (IJ) and BIA positions based on the candidates’ perceived political or ideological views. 

DOJ Demands Documents and Threatens to Subpoena 23 “Sanctuary” Jurisdictions

DOJ announced that it sent letters to 23 cities, counties, and states as part of a review of 8 U.S.C. 1373 compliance, demanding the production of documents that could show whether each jurisdiction is restricting information sharing with federal immigration authorities. The letter states that recipient jurisdictions that fail to respond will be subject to a DOJ subpoena.

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