While some journalists have reported that they cannot get easy access to immigration removal hearings at detention centers near the United States-Mexico border, it can be done.
I attended one of the estimated more than 300,000 immigration removal hearings, formerly called deportation hearings, held each year in the United States.
Before attending the hearing, I researched the law and regulations and talked with public information officers with the U.S. Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review's Office of Legislative and Public Affairs, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Eloy Detention Center in Eloy, Ariz. I also interviewed a local reporter who covers border issues and a political science professor-journalist who claimed that she could not get easy access at Eloy, which is run by the privately owned Corrections Corporation of America.
That professor-journalist - Jacqueline Stevens of Northwestern University in Chicago - has blogged extensively and reported for the magazine The Nation about her struggles with gaining access to deportation hearings in Arizona. In one article, she compared access to deportation hearings with access to secretive courts in "Iran or North Korea."
That claim fascinated and confused me, given what I have heard and experienced with border journalism. So, at 5:15 a.m. Monday, Feb. 7, 1 left my home about 20 miles from the U.S.Mexico border to drive about 120 miles to the Eloy Detention Center and witness part of the morning docket of U.S. Immigration Judge Steven P. Logan.
When I arrived, I had to walk through the electric gates and a metal detector, and then exchange my driver's license for a pass. No electronic devices were allowed.
The chief of prison security - because the public information officer was not on duty - escorted me to the courtrooms. It was not clear if that was the usual procedure for journalists. I was transparent with the public information officers; I wanted to demonstrate for other journalists that there is access, though the process can be detailed and laborious.
Once in the courtroom, after chatting with some guards about how journalists and other members of the public get …