Washington — U.S. border officials on Thursday began allowing some asylum seekers to use a free mobile app to request processing at the official port of entry. This is part of a strategy the Biden administration hopes to dissuade migrants from entering the US illegally.
Eligible migrants in Mexico who use the app will be scheduled to meet U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the port of entry, where officials will determine whether they should be allowed into the country under humanitarian exemptions from the pandemic rule known as Title 42 who has limited asylum applications.
The mobile app extension called CBP One was first unveiled by President Biden last week when he introducedthis combined increased expulsions of those who cross the southern border illegally with expanded opportunities for legal entry into the country for US-sponsored migrants.
The port-of-entry designation process is independent of Biden’s other administration program, which will allow up to 30,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans to fly to the US each month if US citizens or other legal persons in the US agree to sponsor them.
Migrants in central or northern Mexico hoping to be cleared at the port of entry will need to prove that they are vulnerable to government-identified threats to be eligible for a Title 42 exemption, which allows U.S. border officials to quickly remove migrants on health grounds public, without the possibility of seeking asylum.
Vulnerabilities that DHS will consider include physical or mental illness, disability, pregnancy, and not having a safe place to live or shelter in Mexico, as outlined in the app. Migrants under the age of 21 or over 70 and those who have been victims of violence in Mexico will also be included in the process.
In a Thursday statement, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called the port of entry program an “innovative solution.”
“When Title 42 is finally lifted, this new feature will join one of the many tools and processes this administration is providing for individuals to seek protection in a safe, orderly and humane manner and to strengthen the security of our borders,” Mayorkas said.
In addition to acknowledging their vulnerability, the CBP One app will require migrants to submit biographical information about themselves and their families, as well as a photo of their face. They will then be scheduled 14 days in advance to meet at one of eight ports of entry in Arizona, California or Texas.
Those selected for the meeting will not be guaranteed entry into the US, DHS officials said, noting that CBP officers have broad powers to grant or deny migrants entry into the country during port-of-entry inspections.
The application process will be free and the questions on the CBP One app will be available in English and Spanish. The process also means that migrants seeking humanitarian exemptions under Title 42 will no longer need referrals from NGOs that have sent lists of vulnerable migrants to the US government over the past few months.
Under this program, the Biden administration handled thousands of asylum seekers at its port of entry each month. In November, the most recent month with data available, officials at ports of entry handled 20,696 migrants under Title 42 humanitarian exemptions, according to government statistics filed with a federal court.
While it is illegal to enter the US between ports of entry, US asylum law allows migrants on US soil to seek asylum regardless of how they entered the country. But the government used Title 42 to partially suspend asylum laws, expelling hundreds of thousands of migrants without a trial or interview. Migrants were also generally blocked from seeking asylum at ports of entry under Title 42.
After defending it as a key public health measure for more than a year, the Biden administration tried to end Title 42 in the spring of 2022, but Republican-led states convinced the judge to block the termination.
Then, in November, another federal judge ruled Title 42 unlawful. However, his order was suspended by the Supreme Court,at the request of a group of Republican-controlled states that argued that the end of this policy would lead to an even greater increase in border inflows.
While the Biden administration’s recently announced strategy includes expanding Title 42 to expel migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti who were not previously covered by the policy, expanding the CBP One application could open up the US asylum system to a significant number of stranded migrants in Mexico.
Andrea Flores, a former National Security Council official who worked on border issues in the first year of the Biden administration, called the new entry process “long overdue,” saying it “follows on President Biden’s original promise to reopen the asylum system.” .
“Letting migrants register for Title 42 exemptions is a more humane alternative than exposing them to misinformation from smugglers,” Flores told CBS News. “This type of innovation in border processing is the future of orderly migration at the southern border.”
Despite this, some asylum seeker advocates have expressed concern about the new process, saying it will exclude poor migrants who do not have access to Wi-Fi or phones, and those who do not speak English or Spanish, or who face direct danger in Mexico and I look forward to meeting you.
“This will exclude the most vulnerable migrants,” said Erika Pinheiro, executive director of Al Otro Lado, a California-based group offering legal advice to asylum seekers in Mexico.
Priscilla Orta, a South Texas attorney who represents migrants in the group Project Corazon, criticized CBP One’s vulnerability guidelines, saying they don’t explicitly consider LGBTQ migrants vulnerable.
“The world knows that some of the most persecuted people on the planet are members of the LGBTQ+ community,” said Orta, saying some of her clients are being persecuted in Mexico because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The ports of entry participating in the Title 42 exemption process are in Nogales, Arizona; the Texas cities of Brownsville, Eagle Pass, Hidalgo, Laredo and El Paso; and the California cities of Calexico and San Diego. The first meetings of the extended process are scheduled for January 18. DHS officials said they would release additional days each morning.