TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) — On the day President Joe Biden’s administration ended a public health measure blocking many asylum seekers at the Mexican border during the coronavirus pandemic, Teodoso Vargas was ready to show American officials his scars and photos of his bullets. body.
Instead, he stood frozen with his pregnant wife and 5-year-old son at a Tijuana railroad crossing, just feet from American soil.
He was unsure of the new rules put in place with the change and whether the next steps in approaching US officials to seek asylum in person might force a return to his native Honduras.
“I can’t go back to my country,” said Vargas, a long scar snaking along his neck from surgery after he was shot nine times in his homeland during a robbery. “Fear is the reason I don’t want to come back. If I can just show the proof I have, I believe the United States will let me in.
Asylum seekers say joy at the end of the public health restriction known as Title 42 this month is turning to angst with uncertainty about how the administration’s new rules will Biden affects them.
Although the government has opened up new immigration avenues, the fate of many people is largely left to a US government app used only to book an appointment at a port of entry and unable to decipher the human suffering or to assess the vulnerability of candidates.
The CBP One app is a key tool for creating a more efficient and orderly system at the border “while weeding out unscrupulous smugglers who take advantage of vulnerable migrants,” the Department of Homeland Security said in an email. ‘Associated Press.
But since its rollout in January, the app has come under fire for technological issues. Demand has far exceeded the approximately 1,000 appointments available on the app each day.
As a Honduran male, Vargas is ineligible for many legal avenues the Biden administration has introduced. A program gives 30,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans a month a chance at humanitarian parole if they apply online, have a financial sponsor in the United States and arrive by air. Minors traveling alone are also exempt from the rules.
Migrants who fail to follow the rules, the government has said, could be deported to their home countries and banned from seeking asylum for five years.
Vargas said he decided not to take the risk. He’s logged into the app every day at 9 a.m. for three months from his rented room in a crime-ridden neighborhood of Tijuana.
His experience is shared by tens of thousands of other asylum seekers in Mexican border towns.
Immigration lawyer Blaine Bookey said for many at the border “there doesn’t seem to be an option right now for people to apply for asylum if they don’t have an appointment via the CBP application”.
The government said it was not turning away asylum seekers but giving priority to people who used the app.
Bookey’s group, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, is one of the lead plaintiffs, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, challenging some of the new rules in federal court in San Francisco, including the requirement that people apply for first asylum in a country. they crossed on the way to the United States. They are asking the court to authorize an asylum application from anyone on American soil.
Republican lawmakers in Texas also sued. Among other things, they argue that the CBP One app encourages illegal immigration by dispensing with appointments without properly verifying whether applicants have a legal basis to stay.
The Biden administration said new measures, including enforcement, have helped reduce illegal immigration by more than 70% since Title 42 ended on May 11.
More than 79,000 people have been admitted under CBP One since its launch on January 12 through the end of April. From May 12 to 19, an average of 1,070 people per day showed up at entry points after getting an appointment on the app, the government said. He did not provide updated numbers, but said the numbers are expected to increase as the initiative grows.
The administration also pointed to improvements made in recent weeks. The app can prioritize those who have tried the longest. Appointments are open online throughout the day to avoid system overload. People with acute medical conditions or facing imminent threats of murder, rape, kidnapping or other “exceptionally compelling circumstances” can apply for priority status, but only in person at a port of entry. The application does not allow entry of case details.
Still, some asylum seekers claim to have been turned away at crossing points while making claims, lawyers say.
Koral Rivera, from Mexico and eight months pregnant, said she had been trying to get a date through the app for two months. She recently traveled to a Texas crossing to present her case to US authorities, but said Mexican immigration officials in Matamoros blocked her and her husband.
“They tell us to try to get a date through the app,” said Rivera, whose family has been threatened by drug cartel members.
Priscilla Orta, an immigration attorney at Lawyers for Good Government in Brownsville, Texas, said a Honduran woman from the Mexican border town of Reynosa said a man she accuses of raping her found her via her phone, which she was using to secure an appointment.
The woman was raped again, said Orta, who has not been able to reach her since.
“It’s heartbreaking to realize that you’re going to have to put up with the abuse in Mexico and kind of keep taking it because if you don’t, you could hurt yourself forever in the long run,” the said. attorney.
Orta said she could previously ask US border officials at the crossings to prioritize children with cancer, torture victims and members of the LGBTQ community, and that usually they would schedule a meeting. But local officials informed her that they no longer had advice from Washington.
“They don’t know what to do with these extremely vulnerable people,” Orta said, adding that migrants face tough questions. “Are you at risk of never being granted asylum? Or are you trying to wait for a date despite the danger?
Vargas, a farmer, has no doubt he could prove he and his family fled Honduras out of fear, the first requirement for entry into the United States to begin the years-long legal process for safe haven. . His iPhone is filled with pictures of him lying in a hospital bed, tubes sticking out, his swollen face covered in bandages. He has knots of scar tissue on either side of his head from a bullet going through his right check and exiting the left side of his head. Similar scar tissue dots his back and sides.
Her morale was high after Title 42 expired, and the other asylum seekers at a Tijuana shelter left with appointments. Two weeks later, he was appalled.
“I can’t find enough work here. Either I will have to go back to Honduras, but I will probably be killed, or I don’t know,” he said. “I feel so hopeless.”
Solomon reported from Miami.