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Immigration Law Experts Debriefed Press on “Port Courts” and Due Process Concerns


AILA Doc. No. 19091234 | Dated September 12, 2019

WASHINGTON, DC – Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the Migration Protection Protocols (MPP), a policy also known as “Remain in Mexico,” which requires individuals seeking asylum at our southern border to remain in Mexico while their U.S. removal proceedings are pending. DHS recently expanded this program into Laredo and Brownsville, TX and built massive new temporary tent facilities to adjudicate hearings via video conference for MPP asylum seekers. To date, little information has been confirmed by DOJ or DHS, but hearings in the new port courts began on September 11th in Laredo and September 12th in Brownsville.

There are many due process concerns with these secretive port courts, and as established, it is unlikely that migrants will have meaningful access to counsel for these life and death hearings. On a telephonic briefing for the press, immigration law experts shared insights relating to these port courts, the MPP program, and the due process disaster in the making.

Denise Gilman, Director, Immigration Clinic, University of Texas, Austin: “The Remain in Mexico program places asylum seekers in incredible danger in northern Mexico only to call them back for asylum hearings that are a sham. Video hearings within tents carried out without access to counsel do not respect minimal due process norms. The entire program is set up to turn away asylum seekers seeking desperately-needed protection in this country under U.S. and international law. There is no way to fix this shameful program; it must be ended.”

Ashley Huebner, Associate Director of Legal Services, National Immigrant Justice Center: “The port courts exemplify the massive problems with the Remain in Mexico policy and the sham hearings and non-refoulement interviews that this administration has established. A court system that is hidden from view does not allow attorneys to access their clients, and forces individuals to present their asylum claims while constantly under duress is not a court at all.”

Jodi Goodwin, Immigration Attorney, Harlingen, TX: “Running rough-shod overdue process is the name of the game for the Port Courts and MPP. Despite repeated attempts to garner information about how cases will work and even where they will be allowed to go, attorneys are left out of the process, and access to counsel for those in MPP is abysmal. I cannot overstate the difficulties of providing counsel to people located in a Level 4 Security Threat Assessment zone, as per the Department of State, similar to Aleppo, Syria, and Kabul, Afghanistan. Asylum seekers represented by attorneys are much more likely to be successful but the government is throwing up every possible obstacle to counsel, and thus to justice.”

Kate Voigt, Associate Director of Government Relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) who moderated the call concluded, “Since the start of the Remain in Mexico policy, more than 42,000 vulnerable asylum seekers have been forced to wait for their proceedings in some of the most dangerous locations in Mexico, most without any access to legal representation. The rollout of these port courts has been shrouded in secrecy. The government has provided almost no public information to attorneys or other stakeholders about even the most basic logistics related to the courts’ operations, despite their apparent launch this week. AILA will continue to fight for the due process rights of asylum seekers.”

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