US asylum app’s problems deeper than policy changes in Washington
It is possible that an information technology solution exists for the asylum crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border, but Washington’s biometric CBP One app is likely not it.
CBP One, which is approaching its third anniversary, is back in the news as Covid health restrictions on immigration – Title 42 — ended this week. Washington has asked those who previously had been prohibited from entry to join everyone else in using CBP One to get asylum interviews.
The implication is that the new app users will cripple CBP One, when most of the news coverage and analysis of the app’s performance has been negative to begin with. There are no shortage of reports that asylum seekers are experiencing poor performance (including alleged bias) when using CBP One.
The software runs on phones, but there also is a lesser-known desktop version.
The CBP stands for Customs and Border Protection, a federal agency with a spotty humanitarian record tasked with herculean task of securing boundaries that are among the longest and most remote.
Its app has a broader mandate than is common knowledge. According to the government’s 35-page privacy impact assessment of CBP One, it has functions intended for travelers, importers, brokers, carriers and international organizations. The app is integrated with the government’s Login.gov identification service.
A day before Title 42 expired, the agency redrew some rules – for example, would-be applicants no longer have to access CBP One everyday all at the same hour. And people have 23 hours to accept and schedule an appointment that has been granted.
Also, biometric data can be submitted earlier in the process, before first and secondary meetings, or inspections.
Human rights advocates continue to decry the mandatory features of CBP One. According to Amnesty International, making the app the de facto sole avenue for seeking refuge across borders is a “clear violation of international human rights law.”
Arguments that mobile phones are ubiquitous and that they are being used on the border to create order among asylum seekers cut no ice with Amnesty and other organizations. The border can be made secure without needless surveillance and intrusiveness, migrant advocates maintain.
There also are concerns that privacy for asylum seekers is being abandoned in the rush to digitize border crossings.