The agency’s app is now the exclusive way to schedule appointments to request asylum. The app, rated 2.7 and 2.5 out of five in the Google and Apple stores, respectively, has limitations and errors that effectively exclude the most vulnerable populations of asylum seekers. The following article was published in the March-April 2023 issue of NewsNotes.
In October 2020, the U.S. Government rolled out CBP One™ “as part of [Customs Border Protection]’s comprehensive effort to improve the security of our nation’s borders while enhancing legitimate travel and trade.” CBP One, according to the agency, “will provide increased accessibility and transparency to some of CBP’s most utilized services.” As of January 12, 2023, asylum seekers applying to enter through the US-Mexico border must use CBP One App. However, this well-intentioned app has presented insurmountable problems to dark-skinned persons seeking entry to the United States at the US-Mexico border. The Guardian reports in an article titled “Facial recognition bias frustrates Black asylum applicants” that the app is unable to map the features of many darker-skinned asylum seekers. As a result, they cannot upload their photos to receive an asylum appointment with the US immigration authorities. Instead, hapless asylum seekers receive error upon error in the app.
Most people seeking asylum have gone through horrendous journeys to get to the southern border. Asylum seekers are fleeing real danger to their lives. The CBP One app adds a new layer of frustration onto the situation as it fails to perform its stated purpose, namely to “reduce wait times and help ensure safe, orderly and streamlined processing,” especially among Haitians and African asylum seekers, as well as some darker Venezuelans.
CBP has recently “tweaked” the app to include Haitian Creole in addition to English and Spanish. But not yet resolved are the issues of facial recognition of dark-toned faces. They argue that the app capture feature is not made to compare images in a database but acts rather as a “liveness detection.” How the images are used for biometric information is irrelevant if the end result remains the same: exclusion of a population because of skin tone.
This frustration has the capacity to expose these vulnerable persons to further exploitation at the hands of people who claim to offer help.
The app presents other layers difficulties to asylum seekers. At a basic level, it is not available to asylum seekers who lack a smartphone, and it is not functional without a local service provider or reliable Wi-Fi and network coverage. The technological barriers present a form of discriminating against the most vulnerable persons.
Another issue with the app is that it does not allow for a family to schedule an appointment as a single unit. Each member must apply separately. Given that the slots per day a very limited and everyone is trying to get the application done, many families are unable to secure an appoint for all its members in one day.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says it is working to improve the app and expand its accessibility. Meanwhile, we call on DHS to offer an alternative to persons whom the app rejects. The decision to make the CBP One app the only means of scheduling appointments is not only discriminatory but also endangering the lives of the most vulnerable people. Human lives must take precedence over protocols. Heidi Cerneka, a Maryknoll Lay Missioner working in El Paso, Texas, says, “this app is definitely not the answer – or for sure it isn’t while we are spending way too much money on national guard, tanks and war toys to keep people from asking for asylum instead of investing that same money in more people to process asylum seekers, or more resources to allow people to ask for asylum through the app.”
Unfortunately, the Biden Administration is headed in a direction that is more exclusionary still. A draft rule has been released by the Biden Administration that would potentially deny the legal right to seek asylum in the United States for the majority of migrants who pass through other countries en route to the U.S. southern border. Under the recently proposed rule, countries must first apply for asylum in those countries they pass through. The rule is not yet implemented and is receiving public comments until March 27.
Faith in action
Submit a public comment on the proposed rule that the administration must consider at https://mogc.info/AsylumBanComments
Image: the icon of the CBP One app on Google's play store