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Immigration Law

Border Tent Courts Still Closed to Public

Adolfo Flores, BuzzFeed News, Jan. 13, 2020

"The Trump administration recently agreed to open its "tent courts," makeshift tribunals where immigrants made to wait in Mexico attend hearings, but lawyers and legal observers say the setup still fails to give full access to the public.

Attorneys and advocates said the government is keeping the public out of what some consider to be the most important part of immigration court proceedings by using judges located inside a private Fort Worth, Texas, facility. The hearings are where immigrants get the opportunity to present arguments and evidence as to why they should be allowed to stay in the United States.

... In general, immigration courts are open to the public [and the media] — although, according to the Justice Department, plaintiffs can request that merits hearings be closed.

At the Brownsville tent courts, however, merits hearings are closed automatically by design, said Andrew Udelsman, a fellow in the Texas Civil Rights Project's racial and economic justice program.

"The case right now appears to be a blanket rule that the public has no access to MPP merits proceedings, and that is illegal," Udelsman told BuzzFeed News. "There is a First Amendment right of public access to court proceedings. That right is being violated by this blanket denial of access to merit proceedings." "