Trump admin to finally open secretive immigration ‘tent courts’ at border to the public

MATAMOROS, MEXICO - DECEMBER 09: U.S. government border facilities, including an immigration court, can be seen in Brownsville, .Texas from the international bridge over the Rio Grande on December 09, 2019 in the border town of Matamoros, Mexico. More than 1,000 Central American and Mexican asylum seekers have been staying, many for months, in a squalid camp, located next to the bridge in Matamoros, Mexico. Immigrant families at the camp are now required by the U.S. government to stay in Mexico as part of the Trump Administration's "Remain in Mexico" process for people legally seeking political asylum in the United States. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

After months of criticism from immigrant rights advocates and lawmakers, the Trump administration will open up the so-called immigration tent courts along the southern U.S. border to public observers, The Wall Street Journal reports. Democratic lawmakers had previously criticized these facilities, where asylum-seekers subject to the Remain in Mexico policy have their cases heard, as “shrouded in secrecy since their creation,” a due process nightmare, and carried out with “little oversight over their operations.”

Immigration court proceedings are usually open to the public and press, but that hasn’t been the case here. From the start, U.S. officials blocked both court observers and press from entering, citing “’the law enforcement sensitive priorities’ of the nearby official border crossings,” BuzzFeed News reported in September. Or maybe because what’s happening inside has been sham justice: Asylum-seekers don’t get an in-person hearing, with judges instead appearing via video conference, making decisions that could lead to life or death subject to technical difficulties. 

“The secretive nature of the tent facilities is aggravated by the fact that DHS continues to expand its deeply concerning Remain in Mexico program,” legislators said in their recent letter to Homeland Security and Justice Department leaders. “Migrants subject to the Remain in Mexico program have been separated from their families, have been forced to remain in a country that has been unwilling or unable to provide them shelter or protection and are obstructed from adequately participating in the legal process pursuant to their rights.”

This ongoing pressure appears to have helped lead to a change that will bring much needed transparency to these proceedings: “U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the structures, issued guidance last week instructing officers in Texas to allow journalists and other members of the public inside to observe proceedings,” The Wall Street Journal wrote. “Visitors still may be required to register, but they won’t need advance permission to enter a tent-court facility.”

That guidance, however, doesn’t change the fact that Remain in Mexico has been a humanitarian disaster that needs to end, period. Hundreds of asylum-seekers forced to wait out their cases in dangerous regions of Mexico have been subject to violence, as U.S. officials have sought to undermine the cases of others by intentionally writing the wrong information on their paperwork, NBC News reported. The policy, a former asylum officer recently said, is “clearly designed to make individuals fail and send everyone back without really giving them a fair shot.”