As of Friday, migrant applicants must register their data and upload a photograph in CBP One – Copyright AFP JAVIER TORRES
The fate of tens of thousands of people seeking asylum at the southern border of the United States will depend, starting Friday, on an app that has only 2.5 stars on the App Store.
For immigration administrators, a fancy, computerized way to manage the wave of people expected to arrive when the Covid-era rules expire must have been enticing.
But for poor and exhausted people whose phones don’t work or who don’t have access to Wi-Fi or electricity, it’s just another near-impossible hurdle.
“It’s incredible that an app practically decides our lives and our future,” Jeremy de Pablos, a 21-year-old Venezuelan who has been camping for weeks in the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez, told AFP.
De Pablos, who has dark skin, said the most difficult part of using the CBP One app was facial recognition, an issue many immigrants with darker complexions have pointed out.
“It’s like a game of chance. He knows who he wants.”
President Joe Biden’s administration launched the Custom and Border Protection app in January as it sought a way to handle the expected chaos when Title 42 expires overnight from Thursday to Friday.
The measure was imposed by Donald Trump, with the stated purpose of keeping people infected with Covid-19 out of the country, allowing border guards to refuse entry to anyone.
In practice, it has been a quick and easy way to avoid the acceptance of asylum applications.
But with the end of the Covid emergency, Title 42 is done for, replaced instead by regular immigration policies that the Biden administration says will offer pathways for legitimate asylum seekers and stiff penalties for those who don’t follow the rules. rules.
– Old and obsolete phones –
Starting Friday, prospective migrants must register their name, date of birth, details of their travel documents and upload a photo to CBP One. The app can also record their location and device details.
But old and outdated phones make the process difficult.
It’s even harder for those whose phones were broken or stolen on the long journey north.
Antonio Sánchez Ventura lives on the streets of Ciudad Juárez with nothing, eating only what he can spare.
Their only goal now is to raise money to buy a phone and download the app.
“It is the dream of every human being to cross into the United States to help our relatives,” he said.
– ‘A nightmare’ –
Ciudad Juárez is a tangle of tents and despair, where people who have made impossible journeys survive on hope and charity.
Those who have phones search for exposed wires from streetlights to charge them and save every penny they have to buy credit to access the Internet.
But the challenge does not end there.
“Look, it’s stuck,” said Ronald Huerta, a Venezuelan who on Wednesday couldn’t get past the app’s language settings.
A few meters away, Ana Paola, a 14-year-old Venezuelan, was crying inconsolably because the application had been updated and all her family’s information had been deleted.
“I’m tired! I can’t take it anymore!” the teen yelled as she repeatedly clicked “Submit” to recreate the family’s profiles, receiving an “Error 500” message each time.
“It has been a nightmare, it has been a torment. This application has caused us emotional, psychological damage, ”said his father, Juan Pavón.
As Title 42 enters its final hours, some migrants are debating whether to sneak across the border, hoping to avoid detection long enough to reach some form of safety.
For some, the strategy works.
“I waited and waited and waited, but I got tired, there was no way to get an appointment,” said Luis Quintana, a Venezuelan who climbed through a hole in the wall in El Paso after three months on the streets of Ciudad Juárez. .
For Raúl Pinto, an attorney with the American Immigration Council, the application’s many problems add another layer of needless despair.
“It is frustrating that this important process is left at the mercy of technology that can often fail and will not be accessible to everyone,” he told AFP.
The government said this week it would roll out updates to the app and increase the number of appointments available in a bid to ease the gridlock.
Pinto was hopeful that things would improve, but said there were many aspects of the process that could not be fixed.
“We are very disappointed that there is no alternative way for people to access this very important and potentially life-saving process,” he said.