Norton Demands Department of Justice Protect Employees by Allowing Telework
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) sent a letter today to Attorney General William Barr urging him to institute greater protections for the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) employees during the coronavirus crisis. Norton sent the letter after learning that some Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) employees have contracted the coronavirus, and EOIR is not following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. Employees are not allowed to telework, despite the almost unanimous recommendations of health experts. Nor are EOIR employees’ workspaces adequately cleaned, even after BIA staff have tested positive for the coronavirus.
“It is dangerous and ridiculous that the Department of Justice is failing to take the scientifically recommended steps necessary to protect its employees,” Norton said. “The Executive Office for Immigration Review must do much more to ensure the safety of staff and the people they serve, or Congress must take action and preserve the health and wellbeing of EOIR staff. The obvious answer is that staff members must be allowed to telework to the fullest extent possible, following the practice of much of the federal government.”
Norton sent her letter after hearing about the unsafe conditions from union members at EOIR.
Norton’s letter follows:
April 29, 2020
The Honorable William Barr
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Attorney General Barr:
I write with concern about the safety of employees at the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) during the coronavirus pandemic. I understand that EOIR has required many Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) staff to work at their offices, instead of teleworking, despite the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the overwhelming majority of scientists and doctors.
For example, I understand that BIA employees working in a leased office in Falls Church, Virginia have been forced to continue to work in that office, although some employees there have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Astonishingly, that office was partially closed at least four times over the course of two weeks due to coronavirus concerns. Only parts of the office apparently were closed after it was discovered that staff exhibited symptoms of and then eventually tested positive for COVID-19. For example, I understand that when a staff member has tested positive for COVID-19s, at most, EOIR has routinely closed only the one floor where that person worked, even though employees move freely between several floors in the course of their workdays. It is very likely that the individual may have gone to other floors, used the same elevator as everyone else in the building and otherwise used common areas of the building on other floors.
I also understand that EOIR has not provided personal protective equipment or even hand sanitizer to its staff. Facilities have been cleaned and disinfected within 24 hours of an individual with the virus having been at the facility, which does not follow CDC guidelines to wait longer to do that. Perhaps most concerning, staff are also not being told when their coworkers have tested positive for COVID-19.
These examples show that EOIR is in violation of CDC guidelines, not to mention best practices, and may have actively spread the virus within its own workforce. EOIR has not offered a reason staff cannot telework like much of the federal workforce.
I ask that you immediately correct these issues and that you respond in writing within three days of the date of this letter.
Eleanor Holmes Norton