Technical issues creating barriers for asylum seekers, migrant advocacy workers say

Keeping tabs on the process between ‘custody to release’ will be vital over the next few months

By: - May 16, 2023 4:15 am

A sign posted at the Paso del Norte bridge urges migrants to use the CBP One application to schedule appointments for asylum. (Photo by Corrie Boudreaux for Source NM)

Title 42 is over, and technology that serves as the main route for anyone requesting asylum is already showing problems. This comes as the United States transitions into stricter immigration practices after the end of the pandemic-era policy that allowed authorities to turn away migrants due to COVID.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of migrants are still waiting in Mexico to observe how U.S. immigration systems will move forward post-Title 42, immigrant rights advocates say.

‘Eerily quiet’ night as Title 42 ends

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has a tech solution that continues to create more problems for people trying to navigate the new process. CBP One is a cell phone app that’s supposed to allow migrants to sign up for an appointment to enter the U.S. and request asylum, making it faster to get through. Many say it doesn’t work.

Jennifer Babaie is the director of advocacy and legal services at the El Paso-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. She said at a news conference on Monday that there are still issues with the app, and it doesn’t work on at least two Chinese brands of cell phones.

Three-quarters of the migrants that Las Americas has seen haven’t been able to successfully use the app, she said.

Roger Maier, spokesperson for CBP, said the agency  “identified several process improvements” on the CBP One app and will update the software “as additional improvement opportunities arise consistent with CBP priorities and resources.”

CBP One recently went through an overhaul with an update several weeks ago.

Access is an issue not all software updates can fix. People without cell phones cannot get the app. Babaie said migrants can still seek asylum without an appointment, but border patrol is prioritizing those with appointments. 

And, she added, people have to prove that they couldn’t access the app. 

Las Americas has asked federal officials exactly how people can prove they’ve had issues, such as technical or language access problems, with the CBP One app.

“We don’t have clear answers on that yet,” she said.

Customs and Border Protection agents question families who have presented themselves at the Paso del Norte bridge to request asylum as Title 42 expires on Thursday night. (Photo by Corrie Boudreaux for Source NM)

On top of the tech issues caused by recommending people use the CBP One app, Babaie also described other issues that are hurting migrants.

Babaie said there have been problems with border patrol sending some migrants that are processed and released with a court date to the wrong places. She said she helped some clients on Friday that were directed by federal officials to cities with no family ties or other support.

She said bureaucracy causes a complicated, multi-part process to fix these errors. 

While waiting for a court date, she said, people have to prove they’re not a flight risk by checking in with law enforcement.

If a person is not in the correct location to speak with the proper U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, then they’d have to find a way to speak with the right ICE agent before the check-in date or file a motion in federal court to change the location.

Thousands surrender to Border Patrol as Title 42 ends

Melissa Lopez is the executive director of Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, another El Paso-based immigration aid organization. She said some people can’t fully read the court documents that are in English and end up in the wrong location.

“It’s not an easy fix in that you just go back down there and say, ‘Hey, so and so messed up on my paperwork.’ There is a whole process to it,” Lopez said.

Babaie said she expects issues like this will occur more frequently in the future.

“I think that data tracking and monitoring what’s going on between custody to release is going to be very important in the coming months,” she said.

She said she also wants to track delays while people are held in custody. She said an uptick in demand for translation and interpretation services will slow down migrants getting interviews to prove their home country is dangerous.

The ‘wait and see’ period

Babaie said it’s been relatively quiet from Friday, when Title 42 ended, to Monday. This is not what many expected as the three-year policy lifted.

“I think much of that is a reflection on individuals trying to get more information on what’s going on,” she said. 

Lopez agreed and said people are waiting to see what’ll happen. In the meantime, she said, the thousands of people who were stuck in Mexico for three years due to Title 42 barring their asylum claims are still waiting.

“I think people are in a little bit of wait and see mode right now,” she said. “Because I know we are as well.”

Severe immigration policies intensify as Title 42 nears its end

Before Title 42 ended, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced new, strict border enforcement measures. Lopez said these penalties caused fewer migrants to try to cross the border than people anticipated.

“A lot of people were shocked by the low numbers of people that we had entering on Friday,” Lopez said. “And quite frankly, I wasn’t because I think the messaging from the White House and from Secretary (Alejandro) Mayorkas was very clear about the penalties going into effect.”

One of these measures includes ramping up the expedited removal of asylum seekers, a policy that rapidly kicks migrants out of the U.S. if officials determine that they don’t have a credible fear back in their home country.

Lopez and Babaie voiced concerns about getting services to people in a much more limited window of time now. Both said they need to restructure service models at their organizations to quickly get people help.

“Our biggest concern is having adequate resources to be able to respond in that kind of rapid-fire way that we need, without neglecting the clients that we already have,” Lopez said.

Migrants wait on the north bank of the Rio Grande, within an area marked by concertina wire, near Gate 42 last week. (Photo by Corrie Boudreaux for Source NM)

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Megan Gleason
Megan Gleason

Megan Gleason is a journalist based in Albuquerque. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. Other work has appeared under the New Mexico Press Association as well as in the Independent, Gallup Sun and Silver City Daily Press.