In a previous blog post published on our website, we discussed the Remain in Mexico policy, formally known as the “Migrant Protection Protocols.” This policy forces immigrants seeking asylum at the southern border to wait in Mexico until an asylum hearing is scheduled before an Immigration Judge.
The Texas Observer reports that “as of mid-September, more than 45,000 migrants have been returned to Mexico to await their court proceedings” pursuant to the Remain in Mexico Policy.
As an expansion of this policy, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has built what have come to be known as “tent court facilities” along several ports of entry at the southern border including in Laredo, Texas and Brownsville, Texas. Immigration hearings are being held in these tents even though immigration judges are not physically present. Instead, immigration judges appear via teleconference from immigration courts miles away.
This process has caused confusion among immigrants at the southern border as well as for immigration attorneys. Lisa Koop, a lawyer at the National Immigration Justice Center, described her experience representing immigrants at these courts. According to CNN.com, “Koop and her clients were able to briefly meet in small, air-conditioned rooms before the hearings, which began at 8:30 a.m. During the hearings, Koop described how migrants saw the immigration judge on a screen, but not the Immigration and Customs Enforcement attorneys, adding that it was ‘often hard to hear’ them.”
Currently, approximately 19 judges from three immigration courts are holding hearings via teleconference. They can be seen on video. Although immigration courts are supposed to be open to the public, access to these tent facilities has become difficult because they are within Customs and Border Patrol property. Entry is allowed on a case-by-case basis, and attorneys must file proper documentation in order to enter the facility. If an individual is denied access to the tent facilities, they must appear at the immigration court where the immigration judge is conducting the teleconference from in order to observe hearings.
An immigration judge has criticized the presence of these tent courts. Ashley Tabaddor, an immigration judge in California and president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, states, “We’ve seen a number of issues. One has to do with the sheer volume of cases that judges are being assigned, just [an] unsustainable demand to handle two, three times the cases that they would otherwise be assigned.” She further adds, “The other big issue has to do with the logistical challenges that the respondents have in trying to secure counsel, which means the judges have to bear the brunt of that shortfall.”
It is clear that the creation of these tent courts by DHS poses many problems for immigrants, immigration attorneys, and immigrations judges alike. This is yet another way in which the current administration has targeted asylum seekers in an effort to deter immigration to the United States. Immigrants who are seeking asylum at the southern border are being forced to face more hurdles than the many obstacles that already exist solely because they fear return to their home countries. For how long the Remain in Mexico policy will remain in effect is unknown, but for the time being, it will continue to cause difficulty for asylum seekers and those attorneys wishing to represent them.