Tent Courts Open to Hear Immigration Cases Closed to the Public

The government opened tent courts under unusual, closed conditions unlike those of other courts in the country to hear the cases of some immigrants seeking asylum.

Tent courts in Laredo, Texas, which opened Wednesday, and tents in Brownsville, which are expected to open Thursday, are designed to try cases of immigrants under the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program. The volume of such cases is so great that established immigration courts have become overwhelmed.

Asylum applicants whose cases are heard in the tent courts will be connected remotely using videoconference technology to immigration judges located in regular courtrooms. The Department of Homeland Security said the tent courts will be closed to the public because they are located on secure government property.

Traditional U.S. courts are open for the public to view daily dockets of cases and to witness most court proceedings. This is important for immigration advocates and lawyers who may only gain access to immigrants they will represent by meeting them in court.

The government plans to use the courts to hear cases of asylum seekers in the Migrant Protection Protocols, more commonly known as the “Remain in Mexico” program. Under that policy, which the Trump administration announced in December 2018, immigrants who cross into the U.S., most of whom request asylum and are returned to Mexico to wait for their court date.

At least 42,000 asylum seekers have so far been sent back to Mexican cities including Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, Matamoros and Nuevo Laredo while they await hearings.

“The nature of the temporary hearing facilities located on CBP property makes these court operations unique from other immigration courts,” a DHS official said.

Immigrant advocates have pushed back against the arrangement, saying the videoconferencing process will cause further delays for the already backlogged immigration courts system, where nearly a million cases are already pending.

Barring public access to the new courts “highlights another glaring reason why the immigration courts have been deprived of key characteristics of what it means to be a court in the United States,” said A. Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges and a Los Angeles-based immigration judge.

By Michelle Hackman and Alicia A. Caldwell for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
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