(WASHINGTON, D.C.)— Congressional leaders from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and House Committees of jurisdiction called on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari and Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz to launch an investigation into the use of tent courts at the border. These tent facilities are being used to hold immigration hearings via video teleconference (VTC) for asylum seekers subject to President Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.
The letter was led by Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro (TX-20) and signed by Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Homeland Security Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (MS-2), Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Chairman Jamie Raskin (MD-8), Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), and Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation, and Operations Chairwoman Kathleen Rice.
“Thus far, DHS and DOJ have prevented organizations from providing legal orientations for asylum seekers in the tent courts. Fewer than 2% of migrants subject to MPP currently have attorneys. Without legal guidance or even basic information about the legal process, it is nearly impossible for these asylum seekers to complete forms, gather evidence, and translate documents into English. As a result, many are not equipped to meaningfully present their asylum claim at all, much less via VTC from the tent courts. Additionally, organizations have repeatedly raised due process concerns about the use of VTC, which may not allow judges to adequately assess nonverbal cues and can impact their assessment of an individual’s demeanor and credibility,” the Members wrote. “It is nearly impossible for observers in courtrooms to fully grasp the experience of the asylum seeker in the tent. It is completely impossible for them to witness issues that may occur prior to the VTC being turned on or after it is turned off. Further, DOJ has told congressional staff these hearings will not always be held at Texas immigration courts, so observers do not know which court around the country will have a hearing on any given day. We are concerned that the administration has intentionally built these tent courts at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) ports of entry to justify limited public access to these facilities, and that this lack of transparency may allow DHS to hide abuse and due process violations that may occur in the tents.”
Full text of the letter can be found here.