Asylum seekers shouldn't have to use CBP app to enter U.S., border groups suit says

By Alisa Reznick
Published: Tuesday, August 1, 2023 - 6:05pm

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Asylum seekers
Mani Albrecht/U.S. Customs and Border Protection
CBP processing migrants, some of whom are asylum seekers, at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in 2018.

A new suit alleges Customs and Border Protection is illegally turning away asylum seekers who don’t have an appointment through the agency's smartphone app, CBP One. 

CBP One appointments are available in limited numbers at a handful of ports of entry across the border. It’s now the main avenue that migrants at the border are supposed to use to enter the U.S. to seek asylum.

Rights activists have long argued the app is glitchy and not a feasible option for everyone — like people facing immediate danger, those who don't speak one of the languages offered in app, or those without a smartphone.

Suit claims restriction on right to asylum

Gianna Borroto with the American Immigration Council is an attorney in the suit.

"We have 10 individual named plaintiffs, the majority of them were turned away at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, or other ports of entry along the border between Tijuana and San Diego," she said.

Those issues are part of what the suit calls a CBP One Turnback Policy that restricts the legal right to asylum. 

"Under the CBP One Turnback Policy, when asylum seekers approach a POE, they are typically met at or near the 'limit line,' the physical demarcation point between U.S. and Mexican territory, by CBP officers or Mexican authorities who, upon information and belief, are acting at the behest of CBP," the suit reads. "If the asylum seekers do not have a CBP One appointment confirmation or present at a date or time different from the designated appointment slot, they are turned back to Mexico."

In addition to the 10 asylum seekers, Borroto and other lawyers are also representing cross-border aid groups Al Otro Lado and the Haitian Bridge Alliance, who two argue the practice has forced them to divert resources away from other projects to aid asylum seekers and migrants waiting in border towns. 

App rules at odds with CBP's own policy

Borroto says turning asylum seekers away goes against U.S. law, which guarantees the right to seek asylum at the border  — and CBP’s own policies, which say a person is allowed to approach a port of entry to seek protection, with or without an appointment through the app.

"There is nothing in U.S. statutes or regulations that allows Defendants to set an artificial cap on the number of noncitizens who can present at a POE to seek asylum. Nor does U.S. law permit Defendants to create a technological barrier that deprives individuals of their statutory right to seek asylum or produces unreasonable and dangerous delays in accessing the U.S. asylum process," the suit reads. "Congress mandated equity in its treatment of all refugees, however they arrived.'"

This is the latest in a string of legal challenges against the Biden administration's policies at the border. At the end of last month, a federal judge in California ruled to vacate a new rule that narrows asylum eligibility at the border, siding with the ACLU and other rights groups who filed suit against it. The government is appealing that ruling. 

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