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DIGGING DEEPER: Procedures at federal courthouse impacted by COVID-19

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TUCSON - The coronavirus has impacted almost everything in our daily lives, including court procedures at the Federal Courthouse.

On Friday, a General Order was signed by Chief Judge who mentioned: "there are court personnel in this district being tested for COVID-19 exposure, as well as an excused juror.”

So, the courthouses are open on a limited basis and judges are prioritizing the most pressing cases.

Operation Streamline is a fast track procedure on immigration violations and illegal entry into the United States.

Normally, there are over 100 people in a courtroom who've been apprehended at the border and come into the courthouse on a daily basis.

That's changed.

Laura Conover represents 400 plus contract attorneys from around the state, nearly half of those are in Tucson.

"This is a never before seen crisis hitting the federal courts,” said Conover. “Taking a look at the operations inside the federal courthouse was critical."

Conover told News 4 Tucson that the federal courthouse in Tucson is one of the busiest in the country.  

Many are concerned that the people who've been apprehended may have the virus or get infected due to the days of traveling without food or water and who may have their immune systems compromised.

Conover added, "With the virus spreading in Mexico, exposing the courthouse, the judges, the attorneys, court staff, interpreters, deputy U.S. marshals, instead of exposing them, Operation Streamline is going to placed on pause."

Conover said Border Patrol will continue to do their job of apprehending people who break the law.

"If someone is wanted or someone has a serious criminal history,” said Conover, “they're still going be brought to federal court and prosecuted for illegal re-entry and that's a felony or some other serious charges."

The hearings will be delayed by as much as 14 days.

Saul Huerta is a defense attorney.  He's been practicing law for over 20 years.

Huerta said it's been challenging, especially for the families, because they can't see or talk to their loved ones because most of the prisons or detention facilities are on lockdown.

Huerta isn't even able to visit with his clients.

However, he realizes, "That's the nature of jails, and prisons, large populations.  The smaller that those can be made, the less likely the virus will spread.”

Lupita Murillo

Lupita Murillo is an investigative reporter. She is part of the Digging Deeper team that uncovers important issues focusing on crime that affects the community.

Paul Birmingham

Paul Birmingham is an Investigative Producer for KVOA News 4 Tucson. He is a three time Edward R. Murrow award winner, native Tucsonan, and a proud Arizona Wildcat.

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