UNITED STATES NEWS

US expands slots for asylum app at land crossings as demand overwhelms supply

Jun 2, 2023, 5:00 PM

Ramon Elias Suarez waits while he tries and fails to use an app to apply for asylum near the United...

Ramon Elias Suarez waits while he tries and fails to use an app to apply for asylum near the United States border on May 12, 2023 in Matamoros, Mexico. Title 42 was a Trump-era policy that allows border agents to quickly turn away migrants seeking asylum due to COVID-related concerns. The policy expired at 11:59 pm on May 11, 2023. (Photo by Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

(Photo by Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

HARLINGEN, Texas (AP) — U.S. authorities on Thursday expanded slots to seek asylum at land crossings with Mexico through a mobile app for the second time in less than a month, seeking to dispel doubts it isn’t a viable option.

There are now 1,250 appointments daily at eight land crossings, up from 1,000 previously and 740 in early May.

The increase “reflects our commitment to continue to expand lawful options for migrants,” said Blas Nuñez-Neto, the Homeland Security Department’s assistant secretary for border and immigration policy. “We’ll continue to expand appointments at the border as our operations allow in terms of capacity.”

Nuñez-Neto called CBP One a “safe and orderly option” during a visit to Harlingen, Texas. He announced the expansion a week after Texas sued to end what the state government considers an illegal method of boosting immigration.

Demand has far outstripped supply from the Jan. 12 start, prompting many to consider crossing the border illegally or giving up. Enrique Lucero, migrant affairs director for the city of Tijuana, said the latest increase would have little impact considering how many are waiting.

“It’s not a big deal,” he said. “It’s still very low and not enough for the pent-up demand.”

After pandemic-related asylum restrictions ended May 11, the Biden administration continued its embrace of a carrot-and-stick approach to the border, introducing a general ban on asylum for people who travel through other countries, like Mexico, and enter the U.S. illegally.

U.S. authorities are trying to funnel people to “legal pathways” like CBP One and parole for up to 30,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans who apply online with a financial sponsor and arrive by air.

CBP One is for people of any nationality who apply in central and northern and northern Mexico and enter by land.

The expansion on Thursday was met with cautious optimism and mild indifference among some of the 150 people, mostly families with young children, camped on a sidewalk at a border crossing where Tijuana leads to San Diego, hoping U.S. officials admit them without a CBP One appointment.

They said it appeared authorities were allowing about one family every several hours, enough to create a growing bottleneck over the last week as word spread it was an alternative.

Carlos Vasquez, 25, reached southern Mexico from Honduras in January with his pregnant wife and their 4-year-old daughter and started trying daily on the app once he was in central Mexico. He became frustrated and, on Monday, began sleeping at the border camp, hoping U.S. officials would take mercy on his family.

Vasquez said the increase to 1,250 a day was good news but not enough for a major impact.

“We are many and there are few chosen,” he said.

Sergio Hernandez, 35, scored an appointment on May 24 after more than five months of daily effort. The appointments are scheduled up to two weeks out.

Hernandez, a Guatemalan who plans to seek asylum while living with a childhood friend in Kansas City, Missouri, said he had received countless “system error” messages before confirming a slot. He was once given a date on his phone screen but email confirmation never arrived.

“They keep improving it little by little,” he said.

Hernandez, who was traveling alone, said perceptions persist that larger families are at a disadvantage, which U.S. officials deny.

Beatriz Melchor, 47, said she would wait to see if the latest increase has an impact. She has been trying the app for about six weeks with her husband and son and said changes announced in early May have produced no noticeable benefit.

The changes included giving higher priority to asylum-seekers who have been trying the app longest and making appointments available throughout the day instead of all at once, which created mad rushes.

“We have more than a month trying and there are people here nine days, four days, and they get their appointments,” she said.

Melchor said returning to her hometown in the Mexican state of Guerrero wasn’t an option. Criminals blocked exits and entrances and she had to escape. If the mobile app doesn’t work, she is prepared to wait, though she said Tijuana is unsafe.

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US expands slots for asylum app at land crossings as demand overwhelms supply