The Trump administration has lifted a ban on public and press access to immigration hearings in tented courts in Brownsville and Laredo.
Tent court facilities opened in September, with asylum seekers answering questions from judges who appear on screens via teleconference. This system is meant to serve as a temporary border court after the enactment of the Trump administration's Migrant Protection Protocols, which requires immigrants to remain in Mexico for months as they wait for their claims to be heard.
The MPP policy was introduced in January 2019 and has slowly expanded across the southern U.S.-Mexico border, which has forced more than 54,000 asylum seekers to wait in Mexico as their claims make their way through U.S. immigration courts.
Last Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it expanded the MPP policy to the Nogales Port of Entry south of Tucson, Arizona, making it the seventh Port of Entry where the policy is being enforced.
Here's what happened when TPR reporter Reynaldo Leaños Jr. was granted access to the Brownsville tented facility on Monday:
I wasn’t allowed to take in pen & paper, even though in other non tent immigration courts I was allowed
Wasn’t able to see final hearing take place, even though asylum seeker said it was okay
The next hearing for most people I saw today is in March, so they’ll wait in MX pic.twitter.com/oUBcj4cKQ3
— Reynaldo Leaños Jr. (@ReynaldoLeanos) January 6, 2020
In about an hour, a judge heard 14 cases — none of the migrants had legal representation. They were all sent back to Mexico to wait for their next court date in February or March. Another 15 didn't show up.
Erin Thorn-Vela from the Texas Civil Rights Project said she’s glad these courts are now open to the public, but that it should have been done since the opening of these facilities months ago.
“I think it’s very important that the public be let in, not only because it’s the law, but because these are things that are being done in our name, and it’s important that we know what’s going on in these courts,” she said.
A statement from a Department of Homeland Security explained the policy change: "In an effort to ensure consistency, clarity, and transparency, the acting secretary directed the components to formalize guidance for public access to these facilities, consistent with immigration courts across the country."
Dominic can be reached at Dominic@TPR.org.