Are virtual immigration courtrooms the answer to the overburdened legal system for asylum seekers on the border? The Migrant Protection Protocols, a.k.a. Remain in Mexico program, is expanding to Laredo, Texas in an attempt to allow immigration judges to preside in hearings via video conferencing.
The Department of Homeland Security made the announcement Tuesday. The first group of 10 asylum-seeking migrants was sent back to Mexico using the system in Laredo Tuesday.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials did not immediately comment, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Tuesday that migrant apprehensions along the southwest border dropped 28% in June compared to May. That decrease was 11 percentage points more than the same period in 2018.
U.S. border apprehensions were still 140% higher through the first six months of the year than the same period a year earlier, the agency said.
“We are working with the government of Mexico to expand Migrant Protection Protocols to allow the U.S. to more effectively assist legitimate asylum-seekers and individuals fleeing persecution and deter migrants with false or meritless claims from making the journey,” the statement said.
Before the Remain in Mexico program, migrants were released into the U.S. with a notice to appear in court at a later date. Now they can remain in Nuevo Laredo to wait for their claims to be processed and return for their court date. The program already operates in Tijuana, Mexicali and Ciudad Juarez. You may remember I’ve written about Democrats – including some 2020 presidential candidates – going across the international bridge in El Paso to cross into Ciudad Juarez to use migrants awaiting their cases to be processed as political props.
Cooperation with border towns along the Mexican border is crucial to help with the overcrowded detention centers on the U.S. side of the border. The Mexican side is overcrowded, too, but many of the migrants are finding work in northern Mexico while they wait.
At the Casa AMAR migrant shelter in Nuevo Laredo, director Aaron Mendez said there was already a “humanitarian crisis” that the shelter lacked the resources to deal with.
“If they could have 50 shelters here in the city it still wouldn’t be enough,” Mendez said. Authorities had originally said 150 to 200 migrants could be returned to Nuevo Laredo daily.
Tents are going up in Laredo as temporary hearing facilities, courtrooms, so to speak.
Laredo officials also said Tuesday that U.S. Customs and Border Protection will be erecting tents in Laredo to act as temporary hearing facilities for MPP cases. Mayor Pete Saenz described the facilities as virtual immigration courtrooms where immigration judges can preside over cases via video conferencing. Saenz told television station KRGV that the facility will house between 20 and 27 courtrooms to assess and process asylum seekers.
The mayor of El Paso is also suggesting that DHS use existing facilites, like an old federal courthouse, which avoids the optics of using a large tent in town. Local businesses would avoid disruptions that tents may create. DHS hopes to start hearing in late August in Laredo.