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SPJ calls on Trump administration to open immigration courts to media and public


Patricia Gallagher Newberry, SPJ National President, 513-702-4065, pattinewberryspj@gmail.com
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists calls on the Trump administration to immediately allow unconditional media access to immigration courts in two Texas border cities, Laredo and Brownsville, for asylum seekers waiting in Mexico.

A policy known officially as “Migrant Protection Protocols” and colloquially as “Remain in Mexico” was introduced earlier this year to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico and cross the border to the United States for hearings. More than 40,000 asylum seekers have been subject to the policy in San Diego; El Paso, Texas; Laredo and Brownsville. The White House said Tuesday that Vice President Mike Pence and Mexico’s top diplomat, Marcelo Ebrard, agreed to implement the policy “to the fullest extent possible.”

The Laredo and Brownsville courts are in tents built on U.S. Customs and Border Protection property; hearings will be conducted by videoconference with judges in other cities. U.S. officials have said on condition of anonymity that media may be allowed in the tents with permission — a vague and empty promise.

A reporter for BuzzFeed News was denied access on Wednesday in Laredo, as was an attorney who wanted to observe as a member of the public. It appears that the public, including media, may be able to witness hearings from a judge’s chambers but not in the tents, where the asylum seekers are.

“These hearings may carry life-and-death consequences for asylum seekers. Hundreds of thousands of people have been arrested or stopped at the border in recent months, many of them asylum-seeking families,” said SPJ National President Patricia Gallagher Newberry. “Observing from a judge’s chambers allows media to see only where the government-controlled camera points inside the tents. What happens inside these courts are a matter of vital public interest. Barring media access is a grievous affront to transparency that prevents journalists from holding the administration to account.”

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