The Road to Safety: Why the US Government’s E-Approach to Asylum Underscores its Imperative of Harsher Border Security

Category Technology

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Keisy Plaza, a Venezuelan refugee, encounters software errors and frozen screens when trying to secure an appointment with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in order to request her family's entry to the US. President Biden has enforced a mobile app, called CBP One, to request an appointment with an immigration official in addition to harsher consequences for those who don't use legal pathways. It is one of the many tools that the government is providing to individuals to seek protection in the United States and secure the border.

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A few minutes before 9 a.m. on a day in late March, Keisy Plaza, 39, leans against a wall on the corner of Juárez Avenue and Gardenias Street in Ciudad Juárez. It’s the last intersection before Mexico turns into El Paso, Texas, and a stream of commuters drive past on their way to work and other daily activities that intertwine the two border cities.

I first met Plaza in a small, crowded shelter a few feet away from the border wall. Originally from Venezuela, she had left her home in Colombia seven months before. She walked a 62-mile stretch of dense mountainous rainforest and swampland called the Darién Gap with two small children and crossed several countries on foot and atop train cars to get to this corner. Her destination is just a few feet away. But instead of walking over to the bridge that serves as an official border crossing and asking for protection in the United States, she just stands there with her 20-year-old daughter, both glued to their phones, as her seven-year-old daughter and three-year-old grandson cry for breakfast and attention. Plaza has been trying every day for weeks to secure an appointment with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) so she can request permission for her family of five to enter the US. So far, she’s had no luck: each time, she’s been met with software errors and frozen screens. When appointment slots do open up, they fill within minutes.

As of June 2021, the mobile app had received more than 400,000 applications from people hoping to gain legal entry into the United States.

Plaza has not been the only person to encounter this new obstacle to finding refuge in the United States. At the start of this year, President Biden announced that people at the southern border who want to seek asylum in the US must first request an appointment to meet with an immigration official via a mobile app. The app, called CBP One, had been used by the US Department of Homeland Security since 2020, to let travelers send their information in advance and speed up processing at a port of entry. But in January, the department expanded the app’s use to include people without documentation who are seeking protection from violence, poverty, or persecution. At the time, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas said it was poised to become "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." .

President Biden has committed to opening more physical processing centers at the border due to the lack of accessible appointments through the mobile app.

In the months since, the app has only become more entrenched. On May 11, the US government lifted a pandemic-era public health policy called Title 42 that for a few years enabled officials to rapidly expel migrants from the US. CBP One, which since January had been used to process humanitarian exemptions to the policy, stayed. It is one of just a handful of legal pathways for people seeking protection to enter the US (they may be allowed in if they have been denied asylum in another country, and there is a program that allows successful applicants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela to fly in directly). At the same time, DHS is implementing harsher consequences for people who don’t use these pathways. Under a new regulation, those who enter the US unlawfully are ineligible for asylum, with fe exceptions.

The Darién Gap is a nearly 80-mile stretch of dense rainforest on the border between Colombia and Panama and considered one of the most dangerous borderlands in the world.

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