Security Concerns Arise as Brownsville MPP Hearings Start
BROWNSVILLE - Concerns are surfacing just as the first hearings were held at the temporary immigration courtrooms at the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville.
The hearings are part of the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as Remain in Mexico.
Only two of the six scheduled respondents, migrants under MPP, showed up to their hearings at the temporary facility.
The facility is made up of 56 virtual courtrooms, some are dedicated to mass hearings and some are designated for individual cases.
Although the migrants show up to the tent courtrooms, they are connected with an immigration judge who is physically at another site.
During the court hearings today, Immigration Judge Delia Gonzalez presided over the cases from her Harlingen office.
The media and attorneys were allowed to observe the proceedings.
During the nearly two-hour process for the two migrants, there was troubleshooting of the audio and seating to ensure all heard the judge through the translator who was present at the Harlingen courtroom.
The judge also had questions about the tent courtroom capacity once the groups who showed up increase. Staff and migrants also had questions about how certain documents would be filed so the court would receive the documents migrants presented at the off-site courtroom.
Some of the documents needed would be scanned, but the question as to how the migrants would send documents to all the proper agencies was left unresolved.
The migrants denied the opportunity to have their initial hearings rescheduled to give them time to find legal counsel; they opted to continue without one.
Judge Gonzalez found they were both in the country illegally and instructed them they could file for asylum.
They received instructions of what they would have to do to fill out an asylum application form, I-589 applications, and the required attached documents.
All documents will have to be translated into English and must have a certificate of translation. Both were given a second court date for Oct. 17 when they will have to turn in their applications.
After that, they will have another court date to have their trial on their merits where the judge determines if they have a claim to asylum.
The other four respondents who did not show up were immediately placed into removal proceedings, though their whereabouts are suspected to be in Mexico since they are under MPP.
Migrants under the program are staying at the Gateway International Bridge grounds on the Mexican side, at hotels or shelters in Matamoros.
They are asked to make their way to the bridge as early as 4:00 a.m. in a Mexican state still considered a 'Do Not Travel' state by the Department of State.
This applies to the other migrants also under the program in northern Tamaulipas, Nuevo Laredo.
They started hearing at their smaller, but similar facility on Wednesday.
Migrants afraid to return to Mexico after their initial hearings can express that to officers.
A CBP official told reporters Wednesday, "Coming out of the mass hearing, they claim a fear of going back to Mexico, they have an opportunity to talk to an asylum officer who determines whether or not there are merits to their claim."
In Brownsville's first hearing, the opportunity to express that didn't come up. Jodi Goodwin was in the courtroom to witness the hearings and says,
"The immigration judge did not ask if they were afraid of returning to Mexico. No indication whatsoever that they could request a non refoulement interview was made."
She explains even when a non refoulement interview is granted, they are rarely successful.
"There's over 42,000 people who have been sent back and I think that we can count less than fifty people that have been taken out of MPP based on NR and that across the entire southwest border," she says.
American Immigration Council Policy Analyst Aaron Reichlin-Melnick says the bar to be taken off MPP is set too high.
"They won't send someone back to Mexico if it is "more likely than not", that means greater than a 50-percent chance that the person would be subject to torture or to persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group once back in Mexico," he says.
That standard is based on one previously established for migrants seeking permanent relief from removal, he added.
The circumstances between the original use and how it's being applied under MPP is different, because in the original process "it's a court process that takes occurs in front of a judge, people are represented, they have access to lawyers, and they can present evidence and they can argue their case.
Here, these interviews are occurring in front of a single asylum officer," he says.
The hearings start in trickles this week and within two weeks, DHS officials say they will be running at full capacity having hundreds of migrants a day, if they show up.
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