Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has spent the month rolling out an app to allow asylum-seekers in Mexico apply for appointments at official border crossings: a limited number of “Title 42 exemptions” available each day.
The “CBPOne” app has problems, the Associated Press is reporting. This may be the most serious:
Some migrants, particularly with darker skin, say the app is rejecting required photos, blocking or delaying applications. CBP says it is aware of some technical issues, especially when new appointments are made available, but that users’ phones may also contribute. It says a live photo is required for each login as a security measure.
The issue has hit Haitians hardest, said Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, director of The Sidewalk School, which assists migrants in Reynosa and Matamoros, across from Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. Previously, about 80% of migrants admitted to seek asylum in the area were Haitian, Rangel-Samponaro said. On Friday, she counted 10 Black people among 270 admitted in Matamoros.
This adds to existing concerns about racial bias in facial recognition, artificial intelligence, and other technologies that national security agencies are rapidly adopting.
It also could reverse a program that was making progress: Haitian asylum seekers’ access to exemptions, for migrants deemed “most vulnerable,” to the Title 42 pandemic expulsions policy.
You may recall the chaotic, abusive scene in Del Rio. Texas in September 2021, when thousands of Haitians crossed the Rio Grande all at once, hoping to turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents and ask for asylum.
That is not the current reality for Haitian migrants. Right now, Haitians hardly ever cross the border in an unauthorized way to seek asylum. They’ve taken full advantage of a Title 42 exemptions process that gradually began expanding during the second half of 2022. They show up, by appointment, at ports of entry (official border crossings).
Since June, 37,408 Haitian migrants have been processed at ports of entry. And the number of Haitians whom Border Patrol has encountered between the ports of entry plummeted 99.6 percent from May (7,762) to December (31).
The cruel airlift of Haitians being expelled back to the Port-au-Prince airport has sharply receded: one plane during the last three months of 2022, compared to 36 in May.
That progress is in jeopardy now, though, as the CBPOne app appears to be making it much harder for Haitian asylum seekers to access the exemptions.
If this continues, Haitians will not stop coming to seek protection in the United States. In fact, Panamanian authorities report that Haitians are the number-one nationality arriving through the treacherous Darién Gap jungles right now.
Unless the CBPOne app improves its facial recognition and other performance quickly, this new technology’s introduction could undo a lot of hard-won progress for Haitian migrants, and worsen order at the border.