SAN ANTONIO — The immigration court judge stared at his long docket list on Thursday morning and told the officer he was ready to hear the next case.

No one inside the small courtroom made a move. All the action was happening up front on a large flat-screen television.

On the screen, an officer could be seen escorting a woman to a seat at a long, bare folding table in a spacious, white-walled room. The woman, a migrant from Cuba named Lorena, had been bused from Mexico to a temporary facility on the South Texas border in Laredo. The judge was 160 miles northeast, in a courtroom in downtown San Antonio.

Lorena’s case was part of the Trump administration’s latest experiment on the southwestern border — tent court.

Federal officials this week began operating tent-style facilities in Laredo and a handful of other border cities to ease the strain on immigration courts, part of a sweeping set of moves intended to slow the flow of migrant families across the border. The tent courts, which are also opening in Brownsville, Tex., and Yuma, Ariz., are designed to speed up processing and end the long delays that have allowed many migrants to live and work in the United States for years before their court cases are decided.

[What will President Trump’s new asylum policy mean for migrants?]

They are part of a series of new measures designed to curtail the past year’s surge in immigration by keeping many asylum applicants waiting outside the country, in Mexico. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court cleared the way for an even farther-reaching new policy that could block nearly all asylum seekers — many of them from Central America, Africa and Asia — who did not first apply unsuccessfully for refuge in another country. The new measures by the administration appear to be having an effect, with federal officials reporting a major decline in border apprehensions last month.

Administration officials say that the measure requiring asylum applicants to wait in Mexico for their court cases to be heard — in some cases in a tent court — will act as a deterrent, as will the new rule requiring most asylum applicants to apply in another country first.

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Tent courthouses are the administration’s latest move in its “Remain in Mexico” policy, forcing asylum seekers to wait in one of Mexico’s most dangerous states until their hearings. We track the tents’ expansion through satellite imagery — and explain how they could make the asylum process even harder.CreditCreditPlanet Labs/Stephanie Leutert

“Until Congress can act with durable, lasting solutions, the rule will help reduce a major ‘pull’ factor driving irregular migration to the United States,” said Jessica Collins, a spokeswoman for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is implementing the new policy.

[“This takes away all hope”: Migrants in Mexico fear new rules on asylum.]

But immigration advocates and lawyers said these new measures have come at a high cost. They called the new tent courts secretive, assembly-line proceedings for lawful asylum seekers, and said the policy has subjected them to kidnapping, assault and extortion. Homeland security officials have denied the public and the news media access to the tent courts, but have allowed access to the courtrooms like the one in San Antonio where the judges hear the cases.

“The historic openness of immigration hearings has been a critical safeguard to prevent abuses,” said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which has fought many of the administration’s immigration policies in court. “The administration must ensure access to these hearings so that any illegality can be exposed, especially in the beginning, given the novelty of the new ‘Remain in Mexico’ process.”

Amnesty International plans to travel to South Texas next week to seek access to the tent courts, which are officially called “port courts” because they are built at ports of entry.

An official with the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that oversees Customs and Border Protection, said in a statement, citing “law enforcement priorities,” that while immigration court hearings were generally open to the public, “the nature of the temporary hearing facilities located on C.B.P. property makes these court operations unique from other immigration courts.”

On Thursday morning, several of those who appeared via teleconference at the Laredo tents were from Honduras, but others were from Cuba. They were part of the so-called Remain in Mexico program, under which those whose cases are in process are bused in from Mexico for their court hearings and then sent back across the border. Several of the migrants appearing on Thursday had first sought entry to the United States at an international bridge in Laredo on Aug. 14 or Aug. 15. Many were scheduled for further hearings on Nov. 7.

With the help of an interpreter, Judge Craig A. Harlow could see and hear the migrants over the video link, and the migrants appeared to hear him clearly and answered all of his questions. Few of them were represented by lawyers. Most sat alone or with their relatives at the table, telling the judge that they agreed to speak on their own behalf. Those who said they wanted to apply for asylum were allowed to do so by the judge, who instructed the officers in Laredo to supply the migrants with applications.

Lorena, the woman from Cuba, did have a lawyer, but her case was heard by the judge before her lawyer arrived in the courtroom in San Antonio. The judge gave her a new court date in November.

Lorena’s lawyer, Jose Diaz-Hazim, said in an interview after the hearings had ended that his client was staying in Nuevo Laredo, the Mexican city directly across the Rio Grande from Laredo. He was uncertain where she was staying, whether in a shelter, hotel or some other location, but he planned on visiting her soon. He questioned whether his client, who he asked be identified only by her first name, would be able to remain safe while waiting for her next hearing.

CreditLuis Antonio Rojas for The New York Times

“There’s corruption,” Mr. Diaz-Hazim said. “There are gangs. There are cartels. These people are asking for help. You’re adding to their suffering. It’s an extra hurdle.”

The “Remain in Mexico” policy has created a chaotic situation in Mexico. Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the A.C.L.U.’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said more than 40,000 people have been sent back to dangerous border cities. Shelters have been occasionally overwhelmed, and some migrants have run out of money and had difficulty finding jobs.

This week, 10 lawyers with Immigrant Defenders Law Center, a nonprofit group in California, and two other groups spent three days providing legal orientations and asylum-application assistance to migrants waiting in Mexicali, which borders the California city of Calexico. About 6,000 migrants are waiting there for court hearings in the United States.

“There are no legal service providers in Mexicali and the need for any bit of information on the legal process and how to fight for asylum is overwhelming,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, the executive director of the law center.

There in that relatively remote stretch of the California border, migrants have not been offered tent court as an option. Their cases have been heard in the main immigration court in San Diego, more than 100 miles away. Those with 8:30 a.m. hearings, as is typical, must appear at the port of entry in Tijuana at 3 a.m. for transport.

In Laredo, by contrast, those appearing for Thursday’s hearings had a much shorter commute. In contrast to the bustle of most immigration courts, the scene in Judge Harlow’s courtroom was relatively tranquil.

Throughout the morning, the judge greeted the migrants politely and asked them a series of questions. Were you born in the United States? Are your parents United States citizens? If you are removed from the country, what country would you like to be sent to?

A woman from Honduras appeared with her 10-year-old son, and Judge Harlow helped her through the process. Did she have a fear of returning to her own country, he asked.

“Yes,” she replied quietly.

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