TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) – The day the US government rolled back a health measure that barred many asylum seekers from crossing the Mexican border during the coronavirus pandemic, Teodoso Vargas showed US officials his scars and the bullet on his body Were ready to show pictures of the kill.
Instead, he crossed a border crossing into the United States in Tijuana with his pregnant wife and five-year-old son just a few feet away.
He was unsure how the new rules work and whether the next steps on the part of the US authorities to request asylum could mean a forced return to his native Honduras.
“I can’t go back to my country,” said Vargas, who has a long scar on his neck from surgery after being shot nine times during a robbery in his country. “I don’t want to go back out of fear. Presenting the evidence, I think they are going to tell me that one can go to the United States.
Asylum seekers say the removal this month of public health restrictions known as Title 42 is raising uncertainty about how the Joe Biden administration’s new rules affect them.
While the government has opened up new avenues for immigration, the fate of many has been largely left in the hands of a government app, which is used only to schedule appointments at the point of entry and does not have human rights. There is no ability to discriminate between pain or risk. Applicant.
The CBP One app is a key tool in creating a more efficient and orderly border system, “keeping out unscrupulous smugglers who profit from vulnerable migrants,” according to a Department of Homeland Security email to The Associated Press.
But the app has been criticized for technical problems since its launch in January. The demand has soared to around 1,000 appointments available each day on the platform.
Because he is Honduran, Vargas is ineligible for many of the legal avenues offered by the Biden administration. A program allows up to 30,000 people a month to apply for humanitarian parole, including Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans, if they request asylum online, have a financial sponsor in the United States and arrive by air. Are. Minors traveling alone are also exempt from those rules.
The government has said migrants who do not follow the rules could be sent back to their countries of origin and barred from seeking asylum for five years.
Vargas decided not to risk it. For three months now, he logs into the app every day at 9 a.m. from his rented room in a dangerous Tijuana neighborhood.
His experience is shared by thousands of other asylum seekers in Mexican border towns.
Immigration attorney Blaine Bueck said that for many people at the border “it appears there is no option right now for people to apply for asylum if they don’t get a placement through the CBP app.” United States Border Security.
The government said it does not turn away asylum seekers, but gives priority to those using the app.
Buki’s group, the Center for Refugees and Gender Studies, is one of the lead plaintiffs, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), that has challenged some of the new rules in court. Federal law in San Francisco, which also requires a This includes people first seeking asylum in the country they passed through on their way to the United States. They are urging the court to allow anyone on US soil to file an asylum claim.
Republican lawmakers from Texas have also filed lawsuits. Among other things, they allege that the CBP One app encourages illegal immigration because it grants appointments without properly filtering whether applicants have a legal basis to remain.
The Biden administration said the new measures, including the app, have helped reduce irregular immigration by more than 70% since the end of Title 42 on May 11.
From its launch on January 12 through the end of April, more than 79,000 people were admitted with a CBP One appointment. Between May 12 and May 19, an average of 1,070 people per day showed up at the entry points after getting appointments on the platform, according to the government. He did not give updated appointments, though he indicated the figures should rise as the program expands.
The government has also highlighted the reforms it has introduced in recent weeks. The app can give priority to those who have been trying for the longest time. Appointments are open throughout the day to avoid system overload. People with serious medical problems or facing imminent threats of murder, rape, kidnapping or other “extraordinarily serious circumstances” may apply for priority status, but only in person at the point of entry. The app does not allow you to enter details of each case.
Still, some asylum seekers say they were turned back when they applied from across the border, according to lawyers.
Coral Rivera, who is eight months pregnant from Mexico, says she has been trying to get an appointment on the app for two months. She recently crossed a border crossing into Texas to present her case to US officials, but says she and her husband were blocked by Mexican immigration agents in Matamoros.
“The Mexicans take us off the bridge. They tell us to try the app,” said Rivera, whose family has been threatened by drug cartel members.
Priscilla Orta, an immigration attorney at Lawyers for Good Government in Brownsville, Texas, said a Honduran woman in the Mexican border city of Reynosa said the man she accused of raping had been located on her cell phone, which Was using to get one. Appointment.
The woman was raped again, said Orta, who has not been able to contact her since.
The lawyer said, “It’s heartbreaking to realize that you just have to continue to put up with the abuse in Mexico and continue to suffer in a way because if you don’t you’re going to harm yourself forever in the long run.” can deliver.”
Orta said he previously could ask border officials at US crossings to give priority to children with cancer, torture victims and members of the LGBTQ community, and they would usually make an appointment. But local officials told him they no longer had a recommendation from Washington.
“They don’t know what to do with these extremely vulnerable people,” Orta said, adding that migrants face difficult dilemmas. “Do you take the risk of not qualifying for asylum? Or do you try to wait for the date despite the danger?
Vargas, who is a farmer, has no doubt that he can show that he and his family fled Honduras out of fear, starting a multi-year legal process to enter the United States and obtain safe asylum. First need to do. His iPhone is filled with photos of him lying in a hospital bed, covered in wires, his face swollen and wrapped in bandages. He has a bullet wound on each side of his head that entered his right cheek and exited the left side of his head. He also has similar marks on his back and sides.
When Title 42 expired and other asylum seekers at the Tijuana shelter had given up dates, they were encouraged. Two weeks later, I was devastated.
“I can’t find enough work here. I have to return to Honduras even if they kill me or I don’t know anymore. I’m already so desperate,” he said.
Salomon reported from Miami.