The Trump administration is opening a law court on the country’s southern border. The court will help handle tens of thousands of cases for asylum seekers waiting in Mexico. Only this court won’t be built of marble or steel: It’s a tent.
The administration introduced its “Remain in Mexico” policy in January. The policy is part of the U.S. response to a large increase in asylum-seeking families, especially from South America. Critics have attacked the plan because it forces families and young children to wait in violent Mexico border cities.
About 40,000 non-Mexican asylum seekers have been forced to wait in Mexico while their cases wind through clogged U.S. immigration courts, according to the Mexican government.
A giant tent court, or “soft-sided” facility, will begin operations Monday in Laredo, Texas. Another should open soon in the Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings. Each court will manage as many as 300 cases a day, says Alberto Flores, port director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Judges will appear on a large screen from another city.
“Everything is going to be virtual,” says Flores.
Tent courts hold four courtrooms for initial scheduling hearings. Each one seats about 50 migrants at a time in rows of benches. There are folding tables available if migrants need to approach the video camera that feeds images to the far-away judge. There’s also a children’s waiting area with brightly colored, kid-sized chairs and baby-changing tables near an area with portable toilets.
Migrants who fear persecution in both Mexico and their home country can appeal to an asylum officer who will interview them from an office in Houston.
Mexico’s immigration crackdown has led to a sharp drop in illegal crossings. In August, U.S. Border Patrol arrests along the Mexico border fell to their lowest level since January—though they’re still fairly high.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has commended Mexico’s “meaningful . . . steps to help curb the flow of illegal immigration.”
(Stuffed animals, story books, and small chairs fill the juvenile waiting area at the Migrant Protection Protocols Immigration Hearing Facilities in Laredo, Texas. Ricardo Santos/The Laredo Morning Times via AP)