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A Sham Process Designed to Fail and Endanger Lives – The Consequences of the Trump’s “Kangaroo” Tent Courts and “Remain in Mexico” Policies

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Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan and the acting heads of CBP, ICE, and USCIS are set to travel today to tent courts along the border in Laredo, TX. We can expect them to claim that the Trump administration’s policies are a success and that the asylum hearings at the tent courts are part of a fair process.

But as a host of powerful reporting details today, it’s a sham process designed to fail. Real lives are being endangered and threatened as a direct result of the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” (or “Migrant Protection Protocols” MPP) and related policies. The details are impossible to square with any portrayal of “success” we’ll hear from the Trump team today. 

According to Pili Tobar, Deputy Director of America’s Voice, “The sham on display at the tent courts in Laredo makes a mockery of any true vision of justice or due process of law. They’re kangaroo tent courts, the final step of a process engineered by the Trump administration to severely restrict any fair chance for migrants seeking asylum to have their cases fully heard and carefully evaluated. First, our government denies requests for vulnerable people to stay and apply for asylum in the U.S. Then they force these people into harm’s way in Mexico, where they face increasingly dangerous conditions, including murder, kidnapping and rape. The cartels and criminal enterprises in Mexico are preying on the victims the U.S. government is providing for them. Finally, if by chance asylum seekers are able to get to their supposedly ‘fair’ asylum hearing, it is taking place in a tent court and without a lawyer or real transparency or accountability. The Trump team hopes to shield American eyes from the systematic denial of people seeking asylum under U.S. and international law by making it ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ It’s part of the administration’s effort to slash all forms of immigration. We can’t let them succeed.” 

Below, we highlight a host of reported pieces that describe why the tent courts in Laredo make a mockery of fairness and due process, as well as several pieces featuring devastating reminders of the real lives being endangered by the Trump team’s MPP policies.

Texas Observer, “Migrants at Laredo Tent Court Tell Stories of Kidnappings and Violence While Pleading Not to Be Returned to Mexico”: 

Only 26 of the asylum-seekers, half the total, made it to their hearing Monday. The rest, presumably, were stuck somewhere in Mexico, or had given up on their asylum cases and returned to their home countries. In Nuevo Laredo, returned migrants have been pressured by Mexican officials into taking buses to the city of Monterrey and even Chiapas, on the other side of the country. Nuevo Laredo is dangerous: A migrant shelter director was disappeared there over a month ago, reportedly after protecting Cubans in his care from kidnappers. 

Only four of the migrants arrived Monday with attorneys, confirming lawyers’ claims that migrants in MPP are being denied reasonable access to counsel, which is key for navigating complicated immigration proceedings. One of the attorneys, Lisa Koop with the National Immigrant Justice Center, stressed to the judge that some of her clients were living in Monterrey and it was very difficult for them to pay for and arrange safe transport to Laredo. 

NBC News, “Tent court hearings for migrants ramp up in Texas as lawyers decry lack of access”:  

Lisa Koop, an attorney representing the migrants at tent courts in Laredo, said, “I think it’s surreal to approach this facility and understand it to be a court of law. It doesn’t feel like a court, it doesn’t act like a court, it doesn’t look like a court …  It’s hard to advocate for them when we don’t know the system we’re trying to navigate on their behalf. I think it’s difficult to describe this process as legitimate when you have people living in fear on the southern border in Mexico.”

BuzzFeed News, “A Teen Girl Forced To Wait In Mexico Under Trump’s Asylum Policies Nearly Drowned While Waiting To Cross”: 

The Honduran asylum-seeker was bathing with four other girls in the river that divides the Mexican city of Matamoros and the US city of Brownsville last week when her 14-year-old friend was sucked in by the current. Breni, who declined to give her full name out of safety and privacy concerns, grabbed onto her friend and was also pulled into the river. Witnesses along the river bank, who had immigrated from Cuba, scrambled to rescue the drowning girls, but were unable to reach Breni until it was nearly too late.

…“I thought she was dead, her body was limp and the light was gone from her eyes,” Salvador told BuzzFeed News. “God brought her back to me.”

Vice News, “Trump’s Asylum Policies Sent Him Back to Mexico. He Was Kidnapped Five Hours Later By a Cartel”: 

David wept as U.S. immigration agents marched him and his child across the bridge into Mexico. “They say here in this country, where we are, they kidnap a lot of people,” he said.

They didn’t even last the night. Hours later and just three miles away, cartel members surrounded David and a dozen other migrants at a bus station. They were forced into trucks, and abducted.

David is among the estimated 42,000 asylum seekers who’ve been returned to Mexico in recent months under President Trump’s new asylum policies. The Trump administration calls the policy “Migrant Protection Protocols,” but far from offering protection, the policy has led to a brutal wave of kidnappings in some of Mexico’s most dangerous border cities.

…They separated the women from the men, and beat any of the men who turned to look. David said one man tried to escape and they shot him dead.

Back in the U.S., Laura was desperately trying to negotiate the release of her brother and his child. But she works in a factory earning $10.50 an hour. She didn’t have a dollar to spare, much less the thousands the kidnappers were demanding.

Mother Jones, “Trump Is Forcing Asylum Seekers to Brave Mexican Border Cities at Night to Make Their Court Dates”: 

A few weeks ago, Sister Salome Limas started fielding some unusual requests at the women’s shelter she runs in Tijuana: The Central American asylum seekers staying at Instituto Madre Asunta began asking if she could let them out in the middle of the night so they could go to court in the United States. The women then showed her paperwork from US immigration officials, directing them to show up to the Mexican side of the San Ysidro Port of Entry at 3:30 a.m.

…For decades, migrants in Mexican border cities have been targeted by criminal organizations and even law enforcement, mainly because they’re easy prey: They’re not familiar with the area and often carry cash for their journey. But with the implementation of Remain in Mexico, migrants from Central America and other parts of the world aren’t just passing through these border cities—they’re being forced to wait there for months, trying to get by in shelters and even on the streets. As the nonprofit Human Rights First has documented, migrants who are subject to Remain in Mexico have been victims of rape, kidnapping, assault, and other violent crimes. Some have died while waiting at the border in Mexico, and, as a Los Angeles Times story recently reported, the “human cost is rising”—which is why advocates are aghast at the government’s decision to force women and children to report to the port of entry in the middle of the night.