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AILA Doc. No. 19091660 | Dated March 6, 2020
DHS has erected tent structures in Laredo and Brownsville, Texas, where individuals subjected to the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), commonly known as the Remain in Mexico program, will have their cases heard via video teleconference (VTC) by an immigration judge (IJ) in another location.
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On January 24, 2020, at DHS invitation, AILA Director of Government Relations Greg Chen, AILA Policy Counsel Leidy Perez-Davis, and American Immigration Council Advocacy Manager Katy Murzda went to Laredo, Texas to tour the tent court facilities and to observe Remain in Mexico hearings. In this blog post, they explain the due process and access to counsel concerns that persist in the tent courts and the need to halt Remain in Mexico.
On November 13, through November 15, 2019, AILA President Marketa Lindt, Executive Director Ben Johnson, Chair of the Southern Border Taskforce Andrew Nietor, and Policy Counsel Leidy Pérez-Davis visited Brownsville, Texas where DHS opened a massive temporary tent facility that functions as a virtual courtroom for asylum seekers subject to the Remain in Mexico (RIM) policy. These tent courts have been shrouded in secrecy since they were opened in September 2019. Despite many requests, DHS has consistently denied AILA and other organizations access to the facilities. To learn more, read this Think Immigration blog post: Eyes on the Border but Shut out of the Tent Courts
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In September 2019, DHS opened massive temporary tent facilities in Laredo and Brownsville, Texas, that function as virtual immigration courtrooms for vulnerable asylum seekers subject to Remain in Mexico. During the hearings, asylum seekers are held in tents at the portsof entry while judges appear remotely via video teleconference (VTC).
Unlike in other immigration courts, the government barred attorney observers, press, and the public from accessing these facilities, in violation of DOJ regulations requiring immigration hearings to generally be open to the public. Access to the tent courts is critical to ensuring due process, and AILA, along with several other organizations and numerous members of Congress, repeatedly voiced concerns about the lack of transparency. In response, and after months of public demand for access, the Wall Street Journal reported on December 29, 2019, that DHS directed component agencies to open the tent courts to the public.
DHS acknowledgement that transparency is both necessary and required is a vital first step toward upholding due process in tent courts. However, thus far, DHS and DOJ have operationalized this directive in a way that fails to allow meaningful access to the ten court facilities and imposed new hurdles to transparency by assigning immigration judges from the Fort Worth Immigration Adjudication Center.
"The administration claims that by creating secret sham tent courts along the border, it is processing asylum claims. This is nothing more than a glaring effort to obliterate due process. In these so-called courts, constitutional protections vanish and civil liberties disappear. The administration’s policy is severely restricting and imposing barriers on the fundamental bedrock of our legal system, the attorney client relationship." – Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX)
On January 24, 2019, DHS announced it would begin implementing "Remain in Mexico," a new policy that would force individuals arriving at the U.S. southern border who are fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries to remain in Mexico pending an asylum hearing before a U.S. immigration judge. DHS has dubbed this plan, the "Migrant Protection Protocols." Remain in Mexico dramatically alters processing of asylum claims at the U.S. southern border and makes it far more difficult for asylum seekers to receive a fair and meaningful review of their claims as required under both U.S. and international law.
“After careful consideration and moral contemplation, I have decided that I cannot conduct Migrant Protection Protocol interviews or otherwise participate in the MPP program. Following the various meetings with Supervisory Asylum Officers last Thursday, August 8, 2019, and possible continued disciplinary action, I am memorializing my objections in writing.
As an Asylum Officer, I have sworn to defend the constitution and faithfully discharge the duties of my office, including the fair administration of our immigration laws. The MPP is illegal. The program exists without statutory authority under the INA, violates normal rulemaking procedures under the APA, and violates international law. The program's execution impairs the fair implementation of our laws and runs directly counter to the values of RAIO. I respectfully decline any further participation in the program.”
Cite as AILA Doc. No. 19091660.