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Migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border are told to use a mobile app to book an appointment, but the app has been plagued by errors since the Biden administration rolled it out in January. Wall Street Journal immigration reporter Michelle Hackman joins Ali Rogin to discuss the new system and how it fits in with the Title 42 policy at the border.
The Biden administration is using a cell phone app as the main quarter for migrants seeking asylum at the U.S. Mexico border. The app was first rolled out in January, but it's been plagued with glitches. As Ali Rogin tells us, that's forcing tens of thousands of people to compete daily for a limited number of appointments.
Since March 2020, a public health policy called Title 42 has allowed border agents to expel migrants, even those who are seeking asylum. But that policy ends on May 11. And the Customs and Border Patrol app could become even more essential. Here to discuss this Wall Street Journal Immigration Reporter Michelle Hackman. Michelle, thank you so much for joining us. Let's remind everybody first, how does Title 42 work? And how does this app fit in with the Title 42 process?
Michelle Hackman, Wall Street Journal Immigration Reporter:
So Title 42 is a policy that because of public health reasons, allows the government to sort of they call it expelling migrants back to Mexico or their home country is on the risk that they might spread COVID. But the really key point here is that it prevents the migrants, the asylum seekers from even asking for asylum under normal circumstances, if you ask for asylum, they cannot kick you out of the country. I mean, that's how asylum law works.
And then this new system that is replacing Title 42, how does it work? And then how does this app fit into that?
Yeah, so this app, it's called CBP One, it's actually been introduced already, even while Title 42 is still in place. And the way it works is that if you're an asylum seeker, you essentially can't ask for asylum if you cross the border illegally, which is the way that most people try. And so instead, the government is saying use this app, book an appointment, you can come to a legal port of entry and ask for asylum. And we'll take you. The only issue is there are just way fewer appointments than there are people who want them.
And let's talk about what problem exactly this app is trying to fix?
The Biden administration, you know, is taking, I would say a slightly different approach from the Trump administration where a like the Trump administration, they're saying, we really don't want you to cross illegally, you know, it's unsafe for everyone involved, it creates chaos. It doesn't allow us to screen who's entering our country. But unlike Trump, they're saying to try to convince people to not come illegally, you have to give them another option. So this is that other option at ports of entry.
And there are a couple other things that the Biden administration is trying, they've opened up some additional legal pathways. Can you talk about those?
So they're trying this totally new idea that that is sort of a novel legal theory where they're saying, you know, even if you don't qualify for a visa, and you're from a certain set of countries, where you're fleeing from authoritarianism, say, you know, Venezuela or Cuba, you can apply to come to the U.S. as long as you have a sponsor who will take you will let you fly here legally to the city of your choice. Let's say you want to go to Chicago. And we'll give you a legal permit to be here for two years at work. So it's sort of an incentive, because it's a way better situation than crossing the border and immediately being put in immigration court.
You were recently at the border where people are using this app to apply for these appointments. How is it working? What are some of the problems that folks are facing? And also, what is life like for people on that side of the border?
It's interesting, we haven't actually tried using a mobile app to do border management before. And like any other app that you download on your phone, it's not perfect, you know. People every day in the morning, they log on to try to get an appointment. There are new appointments made available every day, let's say at about 9 a.m. But there's so many people trying at the same time that the app stalls, you know, it goes gray or it gives you a 504 error. Sometimes, you know, this is a big issue that the government's been trying to solve.
There are a lot of migrants, let's say from Haiti, who have darker facial complexions and you have to take a picture to prove it to you before you get your appointment and it struggles. I mean with those darker complexions it sometimes doesn't recognize people's faces. And what it's doing is it's sort of creating this tense sort of atmosphere where people don't know if they're going to get an appointment when they're going to get an appointment, how long they're going to be in Mexico, you know, Mexico can be really dangerous. And so it's leading people to sort of stay put, and I think get increasingly desperate.
There seems to be bipartisan opposition to this app. And these policies, liberals are saying that this makes immigration too much like a ticket master. And conservatives say that these efforts are expanding legal immigration too much. So what constituency is the Biden administration trying to please with these efforts?
I don't think that they're trying to please anyone. They want to bring down illegal border crossings. And their theory is that you can't do that through deterrence alone, because that is sort of ignoring the level of desperation among migrants in the region. And desperation, always we have seen in the past sort of overcomes however much deterrence you're trying to put in someone's way.
And so they're trying to see if we are successful with this model where people come legally, and you don't have those images on TV have like thousands of people streaming across the border, that they might actually change some of the politics around immigration.
Lastly, Michelle, Title 42 is ending. But it seems with this new policy, that we're certainly not going back to the way asylum was treated before the pandemic. So does this indicate that there is just a fundamental shift happening in how the United States views asylum?
Yeah, I think so. I think forever Republicans in particular, their frustration has been that the asylum system works in such a way where if you walk across the border, even if you're a foot across the border, you're in U.S. territory, and you can ask for asylum, and so many people do that. That amount takes years for us to get through those cases. And in the meantime, people become settled into American society.
And I think what Title 42 taught us is that people kind of like this idea that you can deny people the chance to do that. And I think even some Democrats feel like, you know, we should have the ability to screen who's coming into our country, and sort of choose how many people were able to help that we can't help infinite numbers of people.
Immigration reporter Michelle Hackman with the Wall Street Journal, thank you so much for joining us.
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Ali Rogin is a correspondent for PBS News Weekend and a foreign affairs producer at the PBS NewsHour.
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