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Broken Border

Asylum seekers will appear before judges via teleconferencing in tents as "Remain in Mexico" program expands to Laredo

Laredo's mayor says U.S. Customs and Border Protection plans to build tents to hold asylum proceedings through "virtual courtrooms."

Concertina wire is strung along the bridge between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo on Nov. 16, 2018.

Broken Border

A surge of migrants arriving at the Texas-Mexico border has pushed the country's immigration system to the breaking point as new policies aimed at both undocumented immigrants and legal asylum seekers have contributed to a humanitarian crisis. The Texas Tribune is maintaining its in-depth reporting on this national issue.

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The Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday that the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the “remain in Mexico” program, has expanded to Laredo.

Approximately 10 migrants crossed the border to seek asylum Monday and were sent across the border to Nuevo Laredo on Tuesday to wait as their asylum applications are processed, according to the Associated Press. A DHS official said Tuesday that the agency coordinated with Mexican officials before sending the migrants back to Mexico.

One Venezuelan woman, Lucía Ascencio, told the AP she spent three months waiting in Nuevo Laredo with her husband and two young sons for a chance to make their asylum claim in Laredo. She walked back to Mexico on Tuesday “stunned,” with a September court date.

Laredo officials also said Tuesday that U.S. Customs and Border Protection will be erecting tents in Laredo to act as temporary hearing facilities for MPP cases. Mayor Pete Saenz described the facilities as virtual immigration courtrooms where immigration judges can preside over cases via video conferencing. Saenz told television station KRGV that the facility will house between 20 and 27 courtrooms to assess and process asylum seekers.

Saenz is in talks with DHS officials and Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, also of Laredo, to figure out where to place the facilities. The mayor is suggesting the agency use existing facilities in the city, like an old federal courthouse, citing the bad optics and potential disruptions for private businesses that a large tent could cause for the city.

DHS officials told Saenz they hope to start having hearings in late August.

The program began in San Diego in January before expanding to El Paso in March. Homeland Security officials told KRGV that the lack of capacity and other constraints at the immigration courts in those cities "hinder efforts to implement MPP at these locations."

Enrique Valenzuela, director of Ciudad Juárez’s Centro de Atención a Migrantes, a migrant transition facility operated by the Chihuahua state government, said the number of migrants waiting across the Rio Grande from El Paso in Ciudad Juárez under the program had swelled from 2,800 to 7,600 since mid-May.

Nuevo Laredo is in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas — a place the U.S. State Department cautions government officials and Americans from traveling to because of kidnappings and other violent crimes.

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