June 19, 2023

US Border App Is Bug-Riddled And Violates Human Rights, Campaigners Say

CBP One app

Asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border are struggling with CBP One app due to several conditions, such as unreliable access to Wi-Fi and smartphone access and software bugs and glitches. 

Refugee advocates, however, say the problem goes deeper than that, claiming it violates the internationally recognized right to seek asylum.

What is CBP One App?

The CBP One app was launched in October 2020 to streamline the scheduling of immigration appointments for travelers. But in January of this year, President Joe Biden announced he intended to expand the app’s use to include people seeking asylum in the US.

The app aimed to make immigration for asylum seekers in Mexico more orderly through an appointment-based system.

With a few exceptions, migrants can no longer approach a US immigration officer or turn themselves in after crossing illegally to seek protection.

Instead, they are supposed to make an appointment online to present at the border if they want their internationally recognized right to seek asylum in the US upheld.

The app has become more important in recent months, with the lifting of Title 42 on May 11. Title 42 was a pandemic-era policy that allowed officials to expel migrants quickly, and left thousands of asylum seekers stuck in Mexican border towns, waiting for an appointment to seek refuge. Now that the policy has been lifted, these migrants must rely on the CBP One to make their asylum case.

The Complications of the CBP One App

However, the app has been found to have complications such as software errors and frozen screens, and if an appointment slot does eventually open up, they fill within minutes.  

Aljazeera reported that an asylum seeker, Maria’s teenage daughter used her phone to try to make an appointment. However, she faced many problems.

Firstly, after filling out all her details and selecting an option to make an appointment, her closest port of entry was not an available option.

When Maria herself had previously used the app, she made it to the end of the process, and CBP One asked her to take a photo.

However, she said the app would only capture your face if you are very fast or freezes and sends you back to the beginning. Also, weak Wi-Fi at the shelter makes the process more difficult.

The Guardian also reported that due to migrants being targeted for extortion when trying to reach their appointments, the app has temporarily stopped taking appointments.

Amnesty International has said the mandatory use of the CBP One mobile application as the sole means of entering the United States to seek international protection is a clear violation of international human rights law.

“The way in which the CBP One application works is deeply problematic,” said Erika Guevra-Rosas, Americas Director, Amnesty International.

“Asylum seekers are forced to install the application on their mobile devices, which enables US Customs and Border Protection to collect data about their location by ‘pinging’ their phones.”

Is there a solution?

Brian Strassburger – a Jesuit priest who regularly visits shelters and migrant encampments on the Mexican border of Tamaulipas – shared his insights with MIT Technology Review

He knew of people who had been using the app daily since the first week of March and still didn’t have an appointment.

“Can you imagine the toll it takes psychologically, thinking every day, maybe today is the day?” he said.

CBP One has announced they have expanded the number of appointments available each day on the app to over 1,000, prioritizing people who have waited for the longest, and addressing several technical issues.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said, “The greatest challenge with respect to the CBP One app is not a technological challenge but rather the fact that we have many more migrants than we have the capacity to make appointments for.”

However, immigrant groups disagree and believe the app doesn’t work.

“The issue isn’t the glitches and the bugs. The issue is the app itself.”

That people must have an app to request protection is misunderstanding the dire situation these people are in,” said Bilal Askaryar, the interim campaign manager for #WELCOMEWITHDIGNITY.

Image credit: CBP One

Sara Keenan

Tech Reporter at POCIT. Following her master's degree in journalism, Sara cultivated a deep passion for writing and driving positive change for Black and Brown individuals across all areas of life. This passion expanded to include the experiences of Black and Brown people in tech thanks to her internship experience as an editorial assistant at a tech startup.