The Department of Homeland Security is opening makeshift immigration tent courts along the U.S.-Mexico border to the public after criticism over a lack of transparency, the Wall Street Journal reports. The department established two temporary courts this summer, in Brownsville and Laredo, Tx., to cope with growing numbers of immigrants required to live in Mexico for the duration of their court cases. The courts—temporary building structures beneath wedding-style tents—make it possible for immigrants to attend hearings without being permitted to enter the U.S. beyond the border.
Unlike regular immigration courts, journalists, advocates and other members of the public weren’t permitted to enter, though lawyers representing migrants were allowed access on the dates of their hearings. The new acting DHS secretary, Chad Wolf, asked staff after assuming his job in November whether it was feasible to open the courts to the public. U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued guidance last week instructing officers in Texas to allow journalists and other members of the public inside to observe proceedings. Visitors still may be required to register, but they won’t need advance permission to enter a tent court. Immigration judges across Texas connect with the tent courts to hear cases via videoconference. The unique setup has raised concerns among immigrant advocates and some judges who say it is impossible to know how migrants are treated inside the tent-court facilities. As of late November, half of the migrants required to remain in Mexico abandoned their cases, says the Transactional Records Access Clearing House at Syracuse University. CBP officials are weighing a third tent court in Yuma, Az.