Migrants asked to use the application to seek asylum in the US; advocates raise concerns

People in Mexico seeking U.S. asylum are now required to use a mobile app, but activists remain concerned about how the data it collects will be used and the large number of migrants who may lack the technology to use it. .

The CBP One app had already been used by the administration for some purposes, but it was officially expanded to allow asylum seekers to be shortlisted. Those who qualify are given appointments for a date and port of entry where they can enter the US and begin their asylum application process.

The app is also being used for individuals from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela with sponsors in the US to begin the process for parole in the country for two years.

Since its activation last week, the app has been in such demand that it tells applicants that it has run out of appointments, according to Mexican officials and a dozen immigrants, some of whom shared screenshots of their phones with Reuters.

Many migrants have phones, but others arrive without them or have limited or no access to Wi-Fi. Some lose phones or have them stolen on their travels.

“One of our main concerns about the app is how it will affect accessibility, and one of the things we are concerned about is how difficult it is to use the app for people who may not know they need a phone to access it, who may not have good Wi-Fi connection and those who don’t understand the process of registering, creating a password, getting two-step verification,” said Raúl Pinto, lead attorney for the American Immigration Council.

Pinto said there are concerns about how people will gain access to apply for asylum at a port of entry if they don’t have the ability to download the application from where they are.

The administration wants to move away from third parties that help people use the apps and have people apply directly. Pinto said international organizations previously had access to the app through their own phones and were able to help provide people in need with Wi-Fi and internet access.

But he said there were reports of abuse; some non-profit organizations refused to use the app, and some third parties charged money to help people use it.

“The efforts to make it more accessible are laudable, and at the same time allowing technology to make the process more convenient, I think that’s something to consider,” Pinto said. But he questioned whether the administration is making all the information people need to use it available and widely accessible.

Darryl Morin, president and CEO of advocacy group Forward Latino, said he tried the app and was frustrated.

“I consider myself an educated man and I still find it extremely complicated,” Morin told NBC News.

The groups have also raised concerns about how the personal information of app users will be used and stored. Pinto said the app doesn’t store people’s information, but information entered into CBP One passes through other government databases, some of which can store the information for years.

The app also has GPS tracking technology that has raised red flags, although the federal government has said it won’t be used for surveillance. You can use facial recognition technology, a technology that has been shown to have biases.

“I think it’s important that the app not be used as the only method because we anticipate that not everyone will be able to use it,” Pinto said. He said the government must continue to provide resources at ports of entry so they can still walk and seek “the protection they desperately need.”

At the border, Rubén García, director of the El Paso Annunciation House, which houses migrants, said they are receiving 75 to 85 people a day who have been allowed to seek asylum in the U.S. under a exception to the pandemic law, Title 42, which allows few people to apply for asylum, but contains some exceptions.

He said there are signs the number could increase to 100 to 150 and he thinks the app would make the process more organized.

“If it were up to me, I would have 300 to 400 people coming every day that way and I wouldn’t have to cross the wall and other dangerous things,” he said.

Giovanny Castellanos, who is from Venezuela, had been waiting on the Mexican side of the US-Mexico border for months to enter the US. He lined up Wednesday to enter Laredo, Texas, from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, reported Reuters. He recommended migrants avoid taking risks to cross the border and use the app instead.

Another migrant from Venezuela, whom Reuters identified only by her first name, Alejandra, entered El Paso, Texas from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

“I’m very excited, I can’t wait to see my family,” she said.

But the experience was a little different for José Huerta, a Venezuelan migrant in Ciudad Juárez. The app gave him an appointment to cross the border in Tijuana, Mexico, across the border from San Diego, California, about 746 miles west of Ciudad Juárez.

“I have no money, now I have to walk,” he told Reuters.

The United States has seen crowds of people trying to enter the border city of El Paso from Ciudad Juárez. The shelters have been so full that people have been sleeping on the streets in freezing temperatures. Others waited without adequate clothing for the low temperatures on the Mexico side for the opportunity to enter.

The city declared an emergency in order to change and receive funds to respond. The Texas governor sent members and teams of the National Guard and soldiers from the Department of Public Safety placed barbed wire at the border.

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