The United States is quietly tearing its asylum system apart, endangering the lives of thousands of civilians and generating the confusion and immense human suffering that immigration advocates predicted.
To recap, in May earlier this year, the Biden administration introduced a new rule that makes people ineligible for asylum if they traveled through another country on their way to the U.S. border unless they (1) applied for asylum in a third country and were denied or (2) scheduled one of the limited asylum appointments through CBP One, a glitchy smartphone app. There are few other exceptions, even in cases of extreme medical need.
If it sounds confusing, it’s because it’s meant to be. These two provisions are completely arbitrary, seemingly designed to shut out as many people as possible. Technical issues block many migrants from successfully using the CBP One app. An alternative, safe “third country” for migrants doesn’t exist. Mexico’s asylum system is overwhelmed, and Mexico is also extremely dangerous for migrants, especially Haitian and other Black asylum seekers. Most Central American countries, like Panama and Honduras, don’t even have an asylum process, and others are too dangerous or lack economic opportunity.
The rule has led to a sharp drop in people passing their initial asylum screenings, from an average of 83% approvals from 2014-2019 to 46% for single adults. Anyone the U.S. deports will be legally barred from re-entering for up to five years; if caught trying to enter a second time, they could be charged with a felony.
The Biden administration has also expanded the number of asylum seekers placed in expedited removal, meaning they have a shorter amount of time and a higher bar to prove their case for asylum, often without a chance to speak to a lawyer. This rapid process makes asylum seekers much less likely to pass their screening, and so they are deported as a result.
Tens of thousands of migrants wait in makeshift camps in dangerous border towns as they attempt to get one of just 1,450 appointment slots through the CBP One app each day. The app often malfunctions and is only available in several languages—English, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole—meaning many cannot access it at all.
Conditions are dire at the border. There are reports of malaria and dengue spreading in the informal camps. Migrants in Northern Mexico are easy targets for criminal groups, who often kidnap, murder, or assault people waiting in border towns.
There are reports that authorities on both sides of the border are restricting asylum seekers from physically reaching U.S. ports of entry, preventing them from requesting asylum without a CBP One appointment. On the Mexican side, cartels and Mexican immigration officials have been extorting money from people with CBP One appointments, threatening to make them miss their scheduled time unless they pay exorbitant fees.
The Biden administration has largely been treating its decimation of the asylum system as a success, and it is partially true that irregular crossings have dropped because some migrants fear the harsher penalties that come with deportation. But cruelty can only be a measure of failure: a deep failure on our nation’s part to honor its historic commitment to protect families and refugees fleeing danger.
But migrants are resilient. They continue moving forward in the face of extreme danger because they have no other option. They help each other understand these complex new policies. At some ports of entry, migrants without CBP One appointments have organized their own lines with waiting times to present themselves to U.S. officials to request asylum, claiming this to be more efficient than the app. Our inhumane policies will never stop people from dreaming of a better life.
So as our government will likely be fighting to protect the asylum ban in court, people will still find a way, against all odds. Stay posted for ways to take action, but in the meantime, you can click HERE to send a message to the White House and your member of Congress.
The Quixote Center works to advocate for more humane immigration policies and strengthen a network of migrant shelters across Latin America, including Mexico. Click HERE to support this work.