Chaos Surrounds Migrant Tent Court Hearings in Texas

By Shani Saxon Sep 17, 2019

Things are not going well at the tent courts set up in Laredo, Texas, for asylum-seekers impacted by the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, informally referred to as Remain in Mexico, NBC News reports. Only half of the people scheduled to appear at the MPP’s Immigration Hearing Facilities on Monday (September 16) were able to show up, and most of them had no legal representation.

San Antonio Immigration Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez was scheduled to hear 52 cases, but the judge only saw 27 people. According to NBC, “the majority of migrants did not have legal representation and when the judge asked them if they knew what was going on, she was met with silence and blank stares.”

The setup was reportedly confusing and rife with disorganization. While the judge, lawyers for the government and a translator were present in a San Antonio courtroom, the migrants were 160 miles away in the Laredo facility. They interacted via live video conference. 

Per NBC News:


After the four cases with an attorney were heard, Gonzalez said, “go ahead and line them up” and the remaining migrants were led to two lines where they would step forward when numbers assigned to them were called. The cases were done in bulk with all 23 done within about 50 minutes.

Lisa Koop, a lawyer representing several of the migrants, spoke to NBC after the hearings and said she was forced to meet with her clients “in a shipping-container like facility that had been fashioned into attorney meeting rooms.” 

"I think it's surreal to approach this facility and understand it to be a court of law," Koop said. "It doesn't feel like a court, it doesn’t act like a court, it doesn’t look like a court." She added, “It's hard to advocate for [the migrants] when we don't know the system we're trying to navigate on their behalf … it's difficult to describe this process as legitimate when you have people living in fear on the southern border in Mexico."

Advocates and attorneys not representing clients with scheduled hearings were not given access to court, which is not standard practice. American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Rochelle Garza told NBC she was not allowed in the tent courts. “It flies in the face of the constitution and everything we believe to be justice in America,” she said. “As a lawyer to not have access to a court, it’s scary.”

Several of the people going before the judge expressed their fears of being forced to stay in Mexico while waiting for their cases to be processed, according to NBC. They spoke of “death threats” and violence. One mother told the judge she “didn’t have any money to live in Mexico and she barely had enough to come to this hearing.” In those instances, Judge Gonzalez referred them to “non-refoulment” interviews, which would allow them to be removed from MPP if approved. 

NBC reports that more than 40,000 migrants have been sent to Mexico under the MPP program. Officials plan to process 200 migrants each day in the tents in Laredo, according to The Associated Press.