CBP One: The Latest Roadblock

Report Highlights Harms and Injustices of CBP One App for Asylum Seekers

For Immediate Release: August 31, 2023

WASHINGTON — A new report details the inhumane implications of the CBP One smartphone app for Asylum Seekers. It features interviews with people seeking safety about their experiences with the app, as well as insights from lawyers, policy experts, and service providers in both the U.S. and Mexico.

“CBP One: The Latest Roadblock to Asylum in the United States” was released on August 31. NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Kino Border Initiative, the International Mayan League, Lawyers for Good Government, Hope Border Institute, and Jesuit Refugee Service/USA all contributed to the report, to call attention to the grave consequences of the administrative rule known as the Asylum Ban and to inform a more effective, just, and humane border policy.

“By highlighting the harms that come about from the Asylum Ban, we call on the Administration and Congress not to use technology as a barrier for asylum seekers and to uphold U.S. laws and the legal pathway that allows asylum seekers to seek full protection,” said Ronnate Asirwatham, NETWORK Government Relations Director. “NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice and our partners at the border and in migrant communities advocate just and humane immigration policies and practices that treat all people with dignity.”

Since January, the U.S. government has pushed asylum seekers to pursue safety by scheduling an appointment through a smartphone app called CBP One. On May 12, the Biden administration made a CBP One appointment functionally the only way through which a person seeking safety would be able access all of their asylum rights. With this action, the Administration has put yet another hurdle in front of the most vulnerable people and families seeking safety, who are already living in crisis at the border and who lack access to the technology, information, and funds necessary for the CBP One process. According to the report, in the last six months, reliance on the CBP One app has significantly eroded access to asylum in the United States.

The report names problems with the app itself, including language access and other subversions of due process rights. However, the most urgent issue is the length of wait times, with people and families at the border being forced to wait for appointments in terrible conditions for sometimes as long as eight months. Asylum seekers face assault, rape, torture, kidnapping, and murder. They also face risks like running out of medication for themselves or their children and their money and phones, necessary for the CBP One appointments, being stolen. Families are also being separated because of the long wait and problems in getting an appointment for all the family members.

In accordance with these findings, the report asks that full access to asylum rights be restored without reliance on the CBP One app alone. The report makes several recommendations, including allowing for access to all asylum rights as is currently in the Immigration and Naturalization Act; improving the functionality of CBP One and issuing updated guidance on its use; protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, Black, LGBTQ, and disabled people at the border; and requiring the Departments of State and Homeland Security to formally post their opposition to Mexico’s National Migration Institute (INM) blocking ports of entry.

“This timely report highlights the significant challenges faced by asylum seekers as they try to navigate the various hurdles placed in their way, including the required use of the CBP One app,” says Giulia McPherson, Vice President of Advocacy and Operations at Jesuit Refugee Service/USA. “As an organization operating a binational border program in the U.S. and Mexico, we have witnessed first-hand the psychosocial and physical impacts that restrictive policies and tools like the CBP One app have on the health and well-being of those seeking protection. We urge policymakers to use this report as a resource to understand the real-life implications of U.S. policy on asylum seekers and to consider our recommendations for how the U.S. can better offer refuge to those seeking safety at our borders.”

“While many have been able to access the asylum process through the CBP One app, our report reveals that it remains a challenging roadblock for far too many persons in need of refuge now,” said Dylan Corbett, Executive Director of the Hope Border Institute. “Because lives are at stake, as well as our national commitment to asylum protections, the Biden administration must take swift action to fully restore at the border and turn the page on inhumane and ineffective deterrence strategies.”

Zoe Martens, Advocacy Coordinator for the Kino Border Initiative, adds: “The asylum ban and required use of the CBP One app conditions access to protection on financial resources, tech literacy, and luck. At Kino Border Initiative, we serve families seeking protection who arrive with no cell phone after they have been robbed of everything on their migration journey, people who speak Indigenous languages not available on the app, and people who have been trying to get a CBP One appointment for months on end to no avail. Access to protection should not be conditional on your cell phone model, native language, or the whims of a glitchy app. We call upon the U.S. government and policymakers to rescind the asylum ban and uphold U.S. asylum law.”

Priscilla Orta, Supervising Attorney, Project Corazon, of Lawyers for Good Government, notes:  “Migrants at the border are under constant watch by violent cartels that think nothing of kidnapping, torturing, raping, and robbing them. The only way to ensure that people are able to seek safety is by ensuring that they can safely access the ports of entry and be allowed to seek asylum as is their legal right. Despite CBP’s claims that ‘the bridges are open,’ Mexican officials block access. Sometimes, the Mexican officials will queue a line and hand deliver folks to CBP; sometimes, they will call the same cartels that have harmed them before. Approaching the bridge is a game of Russian Roulette with innocent lives hanging in the balance.”

Lorena Brady, Policy and Program Manager, International Mayan League, adds: “CBP One is systemic discrimination materialized against the most vulnerable and at-risk refugee and asylum-seeking communities. For Indigenous People in particular, this ‘legal pathway’ to seek asylum is completely inaccessible. The majority of Indigenous refugees are not privy to basic education, thus have low literacy levels and don’t read or write in their Indigenous languages or Spanish. Imposing this technological and linguistic barrier for Indigenous families, women, children, and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community fleeing violence and state sponsored persecution is not only inhumane but illegal. At the Mayan League we receive pleas for support from our Maya brothers and sisters waiting in Mexico where they experience extreme violence, and are disproportionately targeted by criminal factions for extortion and human trafficking simply because they are Indigenous. At the core of these violations is the on-going misclassification and erasure of Indigenous Peoples’ identity during their migration journey, the denial of their right to identify as an Indigenous person and to speak their primary language. Translating the CBP One app into Indigenous languages is not a solution. We need a dignified and legal process that upholds Indigenous Peoples’ right to seek asylum.”

The full report can be found online.

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Founded by Catholic Sisters in 1972, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, NETWORK is an inclusive, national, Catholic advocacy organization open to all who share our values, working to achieve equity and justice for everyone. Grounded in Gospel values and the Catholic social justice tradition, NETWORK transforms our society by shaping federal policies that achieve racial, economic, and social justice; serve the common good; and honor the dignity of all.

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