US Suspends Asylum Appointments through Mobile Applications at Dangerous Texas Border Crossing
The administration of US President Joe Biden has stopped accepting appointments through mobile applications to admit asylum seekers at a Texas border crossing that connects to a notoriously dangerous Mexican city. This comes after defenders warned that migrants were being extorted. The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not provide any explanation for its decision to stop scheduling new appointments through the application called CBP One, for the Laredo, Texas crossing.
Migrants Threatened with Extortion and Violence
Several asylum seekers reported Mexican officials in Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Laredo, Texas, threatened to hold them and make them miss their appointments unless they were paid. Humanitarian groups in Laredo raised the alarm and notified CBP about the issues. Certain groups, they said, were controlling access to the international crossing on the Mexican side. Migrant advocates say that the situation in Nuevo Laredo, which is plagued by cartel fights and other problems, casts doubt on the administration’s argument that Mexico is a safe haven for the record number of people fleeing violence in Central America and elsewhere.
Migrants Forced to Pay Bribes to Cross the Border
Rafael Álvarez, 29, who fled from Venezuela, said that after landing in Nuevo Laredo in early June, Mexican immigration authorities at the airport seized his travel documents, including a printout of the email confirming his appointment with CBP One, and demanded that he pay a thousand Mexican pesos, about 57 dollars. He was detained along with other migrants. Álvarez recalls how officials secretly told them to pay or miss their appointments. Refusing to pay, he was held but later released, while five Russians who were being held with him paid a total of 1,000 pesos, about 290 dollars. Álvarez said that other Venezuelan friends who flew to Nuevo Laredo in late May also paid to have their documents returned.
Thousands of Asylum Seekers Trapped on the Mexican Border
Thousands of asylum seekers are trapped in Mexican border cities, hoping to get an appointment to seek refuge in the United States after being blocked during the Covid-19 pandemic by a public health restriction called Title 42, which arose last month. Although the government has opened up some new avenues for immigration, the fate of many people is left largely in the hands of the CBP One app used to make an appointment at a port of entry.
US Continues to Open Daily Appointments for Asylum Seekers
The government said that it would continue to open a thousand 250 daily appointments by reallocating the Laredo plazas to the other seven crossings along the US-Mexico border. It promised to honour online citations issued for the Laredo crossing before the June 3 change. CBP gives priority to those with an appointment, although in-person admission without an appointment may also be attempted. Anyone who has an acute medical condition or is under immediate threat of kidnapping or death may ask to be admitted in person. Laredo was one of the least crowded crossings for asylum appointments, seeing only a fraction of the appointments compared to San Diego and Brownsville.
Extortion and Corruption Continue at the Border, Despite Promises from Governments
Immigrants have long complained about being forced to pay bribes to the immigration sector in Mexico, where corruption is entrenched, and that they sometimes work directly with smugglers. Earlier this month, the Mexican newspaper THE UNIVERSAL posted video obtained through a bus window showing a federal agent receiving migrants’ bills and pocketing them while checking passports in the Pacific coast state of Jalisco. The agency said it had suspended two of its agents there and does not tolerate violations of migrants’ rights. The newspaper also obtained government documents through a freedom of information request that showed the agency had opened 119 investigations against agents between 2017 and 2023 for misconduct.
Migrants Forced to Choose between Extortion or Illegal Border Crossings
The app was criticised for technological problems when it went live on 12 January. The government has made improvements in recent weeks, but demand has far exceeded supply, leading many to consider crossing the border illegally or resigning themselves to rejection. The administration has warned that anyone who does not use legal channels will be deported to their home country and face a five-year ban on seeking asylum in the United States.
The Department of Homeland Security said in an email to the Associated Press that CBP One has been instrumental in creating a more efficient and orderly system at the border “while eliminating unscrupulous smugglers who prey on vulnerable migrants.” Neither the US nor the Mexican government responded to AP questions about reports of extortion of migrants using the app. It remains unclear if the problem is restricted to Nuevo Laredo, and if so, why migrants are encountering these problems. The situation on the Texas-Mexico border continues to be a complicated and dangerous one, and migrants are left at the mercy of authorities and criminal gangs alike.
to receive our newsletters on daily news, opinion and many more options directly in your email.