As the Migrant Protection Protocols have forced people to wait in Mexico and are only allowed in on parole for the day of their hearing, many have found it difficult to obtain legal aid. Nearly all of the people petitioning for asylum are representing themselves. Since July 2019, only 71 of 8009 cases in Brownsville had a legal representative and in Laredo, that amount was even smaller, 31 of 7978. Between October and December 2019, one out of every six immigration court hearings that concluded an immigrant’s case was held by video. If the immigrant was detained, they had a three out of four chance that their decisive hearing would be conducted over video.

In Cornelia Vismann’s essay, Tele Tribunals: Anatomy of a Medium, she writes on the impact of technology in the courtroom, specifically the camera, stating, “They mediate the process of arriving at justice.” VTC is a tool of the judicial system, and as such it should be setup to function reliably due to the severity of the cases. This is not the case. On March 12, 2019, the National Association of Immigration Judges released a statement to the House Appropriations Committee expressing their issues with VTC as well as quotas, budgeting, and training. In it, they state that in FY 2018, 1090 cases were adjourned due to video malfunctioning. They also mention problems with: dropped connections, difficulty hearing or seeing individuals on the screens, extremely problematic issues with interpretation and coordination between telephonic interpreters and the VTC units.

In the migratory sonic event, the use of VTC degrades the voice of the migrant and the materials used to construct these temporary courthouses indicate the lack of investment that the US has in ensuring these are legitimate hearings. James Parker, writing specifically about audiotechnologies in his article, The Soundscape of Justice, states, “audiotechnologies do not simply record and reproduce the sounds of the juridical environment: they change them.” It is wrong to think of these tools as neutral even when they are functioning properly. They enable a system of selection and exclusion which functions as another manifestation of the border. The 70,000 that made it all the way north to the US border and were placed in the MPP program had to plead their case over a device with poor video and sound quality. But even with capable technology, legal representation, or in-person hearings, the asylum hearing becomes, in Achille Mbembe’s words, “the ultimate expression of sovereignty” where the border regime has “the power and capacity to dictate who is able to live and who must die.”

In February of 2021, Biden announced that he will continue to allow the use of VTC in refugee resettlement hearings.