EDITORIAL: Good call: Temporary courts can help reduce backlog of refugees

A man uses a leaf blower to clean the sidewalk outside the tent facilities that will house the virtual immigration proceedings for asylum seekers by the Gateway International Bridge. (Denise Cathey/ The Brownsville Herald)

A new immigration tent facility is going up in the Rio Grande Valley. This one isn’t expected to house any migrants, however. Rather, the tent, which is being built at the Customs and Border Protection site at Brownsville’s Gateway International Bridge, will serve as a temporary courthouse to help process the thousands of asylum seekers more quickly.

Although the system could use some refinement, it’s a good call. It offers a chance to expedite immigration hearings and reduce the backlog of cases; that backlog is a major reason our immigration system is in such bad shape. Many people bypass the legal immigration process because they have little faith in a system that takes years and is unreliable.

Faster adjudication is exactly what is needed to address the wave of Central Americans who have come to our border in recent years seeking asylum from gang and government violence. Whether they ultimately are approved or deported, their fate will be decided sooner and their detention shortened.

The courts will help process people held under the Migration Protection Protocols, better known as the “remain in Mexico” policy. Officials say that under the program, the migrants will be brought to the tents for their hearings and returned to Mexico pending the judges’ ruling.

Bringing the courts to the migrants is a good idea, further reducing the time and cost the process will take.

More immigration judges aren’t coming to the area, however. They will hear the cases via remote video links, further streamlining the process. A system requiring less personnel movement seems the fastest and easiest way to process the cases faster and with less inconvenience for both the court personnel and the migrants.

That raises one major shortcoming of the process. Shipping the migrants back to Mexico seems unreasonable for the migrants, who won’t have access to the courts in the event any developments arise that might affect their cases. We also continue to insist that this country can’t continue to treat Mexico as a dumping ground for people our administration considers undesirable.

And it shouldn’t be necessary. Fitting people with ankle bracelets and releasing them has proved successful; reports show up to 90 percent of those fitted with the bracelets appeared for their hearings. It’s reasonable to assume that after their hearings,the migrants have even more incentive to appear, and releasing them is not only more humane, but it removes the cost of detention.

The wait shouldn’t be long. While every case needs individual consideration, many of them will be similar, and once the facts are verified in one case they can be used for others. In addition, sources say that many of the migrants understand the asylum process and come prepared with information they hope will support their case.

That said, it’s important to ensure that these temporary aren’t just a revolving door to expedite deportations. As our Constitution mandates, all people, regardless of nationality or residency status, must be given due process. To that end, the courts should offer transparency, allowing interested parties to monitor the proceedings and ensure that the migrants are treated fairly and their cases are heard objectively.

If those safeguards are provided, the additional courts can help reduce the strain that this wave of asylum-seekers has created — on the immigration system, the communities where they are detained, and on the refugees themselves.