Immigration hearings will soon begin in the government's new $25-million tent courtrooms built along the southern border. Judges in Houston and elsewhere will rule on asylum claims via video conferencing, upwards of 200 cases a day, to clear a months-long backlog.
“I can't see how any judge can reasonably adjudicate such serious matters long distance by video conference,” says Michael Wynne, a former assistant U.S. attorney. “I don't think it's fair. I think it's a mockery of due process and an insult.”
Because the tent courts were built on Homeland Security land, there are concerns they may not be open to the public. Immigration advocates have yet to hear where to file paperwork and whether attorneys can meet with clients beforehand.
“It seems like a kangaroo court, which will in a quick way, at least give the veneer of adhering to the principles on which this country is based, but I frankly find it embarrassing,” says Wynne.
Others argue the real mockery is our current asylum policy.
“You have hundreds of thousands of people who are defrauding our political asylum system, believing that under the current backlogged system, they will be put out onto the streets and they can disappear here in the United States,” says Ira Mehlman, spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
The tent courts are located near the border where officials can quickly remove those trying to cheat the system.
“Once you've got the system under control, then the people who do have legitimate claims will be able to get a fair hearing on their cases in an expedited fashion, but right now what you've got is chaos,” says Mehlman.