HOUSTON – The Trump administration announced Wednesday that new immigration courts in tents on the Texas border with Mexico will be closed to legal observers, the media and the public.
Immigration lawyers condemned the restrictions as a violation of the due process rights of asylum-seekers.
Federal contractors built the two massive tents along the Rio Grande in the cities of Brownsville and Laredo this summer at a cost of $25 million.
The so-called “port courts” were designed to host hearings for the more than 42,000 asylum-seekers who were returned to Mexico while their cases proceed under the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program that started in January, according to acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Mark Morgan.
Immigration judges in San Antonio will hear those cases over a video link, according to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security.
Members of the public, including reporters and legal observers, will be permitted to watch the proceedings over video from the San Antonio court, the statement said.
Immigration lawyers said they were told judges from the Texas cities of Harlingen and Port Isabel would also be hearing cases from the tent courts.
The Laredo court heard a few cases Wednesday and is expected to ramp up operations on Monday, with remote judges hearing 200 to 250 cases a day from 20 courtrooms, said Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat who represents the city and toured the tent there Tuesday.
The Brownsville tent can host 720 migrants a day, according to a federal contract.
Lawyers said they were still trying to get more information about the proceedings and accused the government of making it difficult for them to represent asylum-seekers.