Asylum seekers in Tijuana are scrambling through mobile app error messages for few appointments into the U.S.

One recent morning, a woman in central Mexico held her phone up to her face and took a photo outside Tijuana City Hall. It was the first time a U.S. government phone app offered port of entry reservations to immigrants seeking asylum.

Error, the app said.

City officials rushed to her aid. Together, they took another photo near her face. Error again.

The official moved her to find a spot where the speckled shadow of the tree did not reach her face. They took another photo. another error.

This woman’s experience was similar to that of many immigrants in the city trying to use an app called CBP One. CBP One is currently the only way to step into a port of entry to claim protection in the United States. The facial recognition technology used to send photos to the app has been particularly error-prone since it was released on Jan. One of the problems.

At an event commemorating the victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Jean Jeef Nelson of the Haitian Bridge Alliance shares information about the CBP One app.

(San Diego Union-Tribune)

CBP One is part of a series of border policy changes that continue to move the United States away from the international standard of allowing migrants to apply for asylum once they land on the soil of the country where they plan to seek asylum. Many of these changes, including CBP One, mean that people with more resources can easily access asylum screening, while excluding many of the most vulnerable cases.

Lack of reliable internet and limited digital knowledge, as well as language barriers, are among the issues that are already separating those who can get reservations in the new process from those who can’t.

This application is currently the only way for immigrants to request a Title 42 exemption. Title 42 blocks asylum seekers and other illegal immigrants from entering the mainland United States, directs border officials to deport those who do without authorization, and generally bypasses legally required procedures. . Screening to see if you are eligible for protection.

The exemption is intended for particularly vulnerable immigrants, such as those with medical or safety concerns while waiting in Mexico. An asylum seeker must demonstrate that she meets at least one vulnerability category when she submits her application, but until she reaches CBP at the port of I do not know.

no more plans

A worker shows information about CBP One to a woman in Michoacan

A Tijuana official shows a woman in Michoacan state information about the CBP One application.

(San Diego Union-Tribune)

On the first day immigrants can request reservations on the CBP One app, Tijuana’s Department of Immigration Services has set up a Wi-Fi zone outside City Hall where officials will encourage immigrants to submit information to Customs and Border Protection. prepared to do so.

A small number of migrants found support tents and officials proceeded with the process. Officials took height and weight measurements as accurately as possible.

By mid-afternoon, authorities had managed to complete the process for nine people in three families, according to Enrique Lucero, head of the office.

But my schedule filled up quickly.

The 22-year-old woman, who fled the Mexican state of Michoacan, began proceedings with city officials that morning, but it was delayed when she received an application to accept photographs of her and all three of her children. There were no more reservations. , she said.

Over a week later, she still hadn’t made an appointment. At the shelter where she’s staying, she said, the app runs very slowly and the internet is probably of poor quality.

Outside the sports complex Unidad Deportiva Reforma

The City of Tijuana has turned the Unidad Deportiva Reforma, a sports complex, into a temporary migrant shelter.

(San Diego Union-Tribune)

When it launched the app as a way for immigrants to apply for entry, CBP said it would offer reservations for two weeks at a time. That means that at 6am every morning, he’s already free for the day.

According to CBP, the San Isidro Port of Entry receives 200 bookings per day. The agency declined to disclose how many are available across borders.

Further complicating matters, according to Marcos Tamaris, deputy head of Doctors Without Borders’ mission in Mexico, when the app is fully booked, some migrants will be sent to remote ports of entry. It means that only empty frames were seen in . This meant that some of the appointments in Tijuana were reserved by immigrants from Matamoros, at the eastern end of the border, located across from Brownsville, Texas.

He said the route along the border from Matamoros to Tijuana is one of Mexico’s most dangerous routes.

“There is a lot of frustration behind this and there is not enough guidance and information to help people make the best decisions,” he said.

Injustice and the Internet

A child plays with a plastic toy outside the migrant shelter in Templo Embajadores de Jesus

A child plays with a plastic toy outside the Templo Embajadores de Jesus migrant shelter. His mother fled Michoacán with him and applied for asylum in the United States.

(San Diego Union-Tribune)

App use, especially when combined with appointments disappearing too quickly, is leading to a divide.

People with weak internet connections have a hard time getting the app to work. The city of Tijuana has beefed up his Wi-Fi network at a municipal shelter it opened late last year to house displaced Venezuelans, but migrants in other shelters and on the streets have little access to reliable internet. often Some people don’t have mobile phones.

The first reservation provided by the app was for Thursday.

That morning, the Union-Tribune reported that as migrants arrived at El Chaparral Plaza, south of the port of entry, and were walking to a special entrance for CBP One processing, a group of mostly Russians confirmed the reservation. I observed that it appeared for

Russian asylum seekers tend to have the funds to stay in Tijuana hotels rather than shelters, which means they have access to better internet.

A man who had recently fled Michoacán, his wife, and four children sat on the sidewalk as the Russians passed. The man took his two phones and tried to manipulate the app. The first few pages were in English.

After he managed to get past them, he was still struggling, although the rest of the app was in Spanish. I was able to enter He waited for a confirmation email, but it never arrived. He tried again, still no email. It was not clear what the men needed to do differently.

That same day, at the Templo Embajadores de Jesus Immigration Shelter, where well over 1,000 immigrants were waiting to apply for asylum in the United States, only a few people interviewed by the Union Tribune knew about the app. There was only one person. in a city building.

The shelter had more pressing issues to address than the app. The rain that hit much of San Diego and Tijuana shortly after the app launched destroyed the road leading to the Canyon Shelter.

The road leading to the migrant shelter Templo Embajadores de Jesús was recently destroyed by rain.

Recent rains have washed away the main road leading to the migrant shelter in Templo Embajadores de Jesús, destroying water pipes and blocking vehicle access to the shelter.

(San Diego Union-Tribune)

These storms have also created a more difficult situation for immigrants waiting inside. New arrivals at the Embajadores shelter sleep on mats on the floor until the beds are opened. They shared stories of the building being flooded and their bedding being flooded. As a result, many people became ill.

Since then, no one interviewed by the Union-Tribune has been successfully booked. I try every morning at 6am and it’s always full.

The app is even more complicated for those who don’t speak English or Spanish. The Haitian is one of the recently deported nationalities, but the app is not available in Haitian her Creole.

“We have already witnessed misinformation and fraud around this programme, and the lack of equity in language access has opened new avenues for exploitation of confused, frustrated and stuck Haitian immigrants. is open.” Haiti Bridges Alliance. “We are deeply disappointed that this system continues to fail black immigrants seeking asylum once again.”

Erika Pinheiro, executive director of Al Otro Lado, a nonprofit that provides legal services, said from Tijuana immigration that dark-skinned people, including both black and indigenous immigrants, could get the photo portion of the app. He said he was concerned about reports that he was particularly struggling with jobs.

Studies of facial recognition software show that technology tends to make more errors when screening these demographic groups.

kicked out waiting

Jesus sitting on a bench outside the shelter

Jesus, a recently deported Cuban asylum seeker, hopes to enter the United States soon through a CBP One appointment.

(San Diego Union-Tribune)

Jesús, a Cuban man unwilling to reveal his full identity due to his continued fragility, looks forward to his appointment with CBP One.

Jesus left Cuba in December and was deported from the United States in early January.

He resigned due to government surveillance and harassment, as well as the impact on his business of repairing washing machines.

“One word: no freedom,” he said of Cuba. “Nothing is free.”

He said that when Border Patrol agents arrested him after he crossed the Mexicali area, they ordered him to discard his belongings, except for his papers. They put me on a bus and drove me to the border without telling me where I was going and I was exiled to Tijuana.

“My world fell apart,” he said in Spanish. “I have sacrificed a lot. It’s really hard to get it back.”

He is staying in a shelter run by the City of Tijuana, a converted sports complex. He said he was able to fill out his CBP One application and get an appointment the first morning it became available. His friend who tried later in the day did not.

Still, he fears CBP will reject him.

Andrea Castillo, staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, contributed to this report.

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