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Dangerous unauthorized information from the CDC

Staffers at immigration courts across the country had a good idea: Put up posters designed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in multiple languages, to inform people of the steps they should take to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. The posters were suggested in an email yesterday from the National Association of Immigration Judges, the union that represents judges in the US immigration courts. Because hey, immigration court is definitely one place that immigrants with ongoing cases have contact with the US government.

And then some asshole higher up in the immigration hierarchy got wind of the posters, and ordered they be removed, because it wasn't the immigration judges' turn to give a fuck about immigrants' health.

Fortunately, there's a semi-happy ending, so far: Hours after the Miami Herald reported the story this morning, the Justice Department contacted the Herald to say oops, big mistake, the order to take the posters down was wrong, no harm no foul, OK? So at least for now, they can go back up. Just run a few more off on the office printer, 'kay? All is well, and perish the thought that anyone wants immigrants to get sick and die, however popular that might be at a Trump rally.


Here are the English and Spanish versions of the poster that caused all the fuss; they're also available in Vietnamese and "simplified Chinese."


The email from the judges' union was pretty non-incendiary stuff, simply passing along public health recommendations for offices from the CDC and suggesting that courts take steps to reduce the chances that people in immigration cases might get or spread the virus, like limiting hearing attendance "to the attorney and respondent," or even waiving the respondent's attendance if they have a lawyer. Hearings could even be held by video, if a local outbreak made it necessary. The NAIJ made clear it wasn't recommending any of those steps, just informing judges of their options under the law.

In addition, the email attached the CDC poster files, as well as a fact sheet on COVID-19 symptoms, and suggested they be posted in public areas, to be servicey.

Someone up the line in the immigration court bureaucracy must have found the posters problematic, because an email sent from the Department of Justice yesterday told immigration courts to knock off the unauthorized helpiness and take those damned posters down, pronto:

The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which falls under the Department of Justice, told all judges and staff members in an email Monday that all coronavirus posters, which explain in English and Spanish how to prevent catching and spreading the virus, had to be removed immediately.

"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," wrote Christopher A. Santoro, the country's acting chief immigration judge in a mass email to immigration court administrators nationwide.

Even after a DOJ spokesperson contacted the Herald today to say that "the signs shouldn't have been removed" and "It's now being rectified," nobody at DOJ would answer the paper's questions about why the posters were ordered removed, or who told Santoro to send the No Health For Immigrants message in the first place.

A. Ashley Tabaddor, president of the judges' union, told the Herald the order was "baffling" and wondered why the higher-ups hadn't themselves taken "any concrete steps [...] to safeguard the health of its employees and the public." Tabbador said the EOIR seemed to be "taking an ostrich approach of sticking one's head in the sand and hoping it would all go away."

Well gosh, we're pretty sure the government wouldn't want to make immigrants sick. That's as silly as thinking people in the Trump administration wanted to take kids from their parents, or that leaders in the Department of Homeland Security didn't give a rat's ass about children being held in filthy, overcrowded detention centers at the border last summer. Especially if anyone finds out.

The EOIR, we should remind you, is the same office that got in hot water last August after reporters found out it had been regularly sending out links to white nationalist websites in its daily news briefings for immigration judges. No idea how those links got there, although, hell of a surprise, VDARE, one of the linked sites, happened to be the same white nationalist outfit whose important work Stephen Miller passed along to help Breitbart report on immigration. Probably just a coincidence.

It's also entirely possible that the snotty email demanding immigrants not be informed of the dangers of snot had more to do with the source of the posters. Not the CDC, silly! The judges' union, which the Trump administration has been trying to get decertified because Stephen Miller thinks immigration judges are too sympathetic to asylum seekers, especially the little kids, who are trying to take American kids' Lego-stacking jobs. (The official excuse is that the judges are managers, so they aren't allowed to have a union.)

And just to come full circle, those EOIR news briefings linked to an anti-Semitic rant full of neo-Nazi jargon claiming the courts are full of evil Jews.

Or maybe the person who wanted the posters to come down simply didn't like the idea of immigration judges doing anything that didn't come straight from the Justice Department. That would be assholish, but at least less horrifying. We're not inclined to give those jerks the benefit of the doubt.

Sounds to us like something that the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship might want to look into. We bet chair Zoe Lofgren (D-California) would have some very pointed questions for EOIR, don't you?

[Miami Herald / CDC]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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