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.
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.”