Asylum-seekers say joy over Title 42 end turns to anguish induced by new US rules

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) On the day President Joe Biden\’s administration ended a public health measure that blocked many asylum seekers at the Mexican border during the coronavirus pandemic, Teodoso Vargas was ready to show U.S. officials the his scars and photos of his bullet-riddled body.

Instead, he froze with his pregnant wife and 5-year-old son at a Tijuana crossing, just steps from American soil.

He wasn\’t sure about the new rules implemented with the change and whether taking the next steps to approach US officials to seek asylum in person could force a return to his native Honduras.

I can\’t go back to my country, Vargas said, a long scar snaking down his neck after surgery after being shot nine times in his homeland during a robbery. Fear is why I don\’t want to go back. If I can only show the evidence I have, I believe the United States will let me in.

Asylum seekers say joy over the end of the public health restriction known as Title 42 this month is turning to anguish over uncertainty about how the Biden administration\’s new rules affect them.

While the government has opened up some new avenues for immigration, the fate of many people is largely left to a US government app used only to make an appointment at a port of entry and unable to decipher human suffering o weigh the vulnerability of applicants.

The CBP One app is a key tool in creating a more efficient and orderly system at the border by weeding out unscrupulous smugglers who profit from vulnerable migrants, the Department of Homeland Security said in an email to the Associated Press.

But since its launch in January, the app has been criticized for technological glitches. Demand has far exceeded the approximately 1,000 appointments available each day on the app.

As a Honduran, Vargas does not qualify for many of the legal pathways introduced by the Biden administration. One program gives up to 30,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans a month a chance at parole if they apply online, have a financial sponsor in the United States, and arrive by air. Minors traveling alone are also exempt from the rules.

Migrants who do not respect the rules, the government said, could be returned to their homelands and banned from seeking asylum for five years.

Vargas said he decided not to risk it. For the past three months, he\’s logged into the app at 9 a.m. every day from his rented room in a crime-ridden Tijuana neighborhood.

His experience is shared by tens of thousands of other asylum seekers in Mexican border towns.

Immigration lawyer Blaine Bookey said for many at the border it seems right now there is no option for people to apply for asylum unless they have an appointment through the CBP app.

The government has said it is not turning away asylum seekers, but is prioritizing people who use the app.

Bookey\’s group, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, is one of the lead plaintiffs, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, challenging some of the new rules in federal court in San Francisco, including the requirement that people first apply for asylum in a country have crossed the road to the United States They are asking the court to grant an asylum request from anyone on US soil.

Republican lawmakers in Texas also sued. Among other things, they argue that the CBP One app encourages illegal immigration by dispensing appointments without properly checking whether applicants have a legal basis to stay.

The Biden administration said new measures, including the app, have helped reduce illegal immigration by more than 70% since Title 42 ended on May 11.

More than 79,000 people were admitted to CBP One from its January 12 launch through the end of April. From May 12 to May 19, an average of 1,070 people a day showed up at ports of entry after making an appointment on the app, the government said. He didn\’t provide updated figures, but said the numbers are expected to grow as the initiative is scaled up.

The administration also highlighted the improvements made in recent weeks. The app can prioritize those who have tried the longest. Appointments are opened online throughout the day to avoid overloading the system. Persons with acute medical conditions or facing imminent threats of murder, rape, kidnapping or other exceptionally compelling circumstances\” can apply for priority status, but only in person at a port of entry. The app does not allow details to be entered of the case.

However, some asylum seekers say they were turned away at intersections while making claims, lawyers say.

Koral Rivera, who hails from Mexico and is eight months pregnant, said she has been trying to get an appointment through the app for two months. She recently went to a Texas border crossing to present her case to US officials, but she said Mexican immigration officers in Matamoros detained her and her husband.

“They tell us to try to get an appointment through the app,” said Rivera, whose family has been threatened by members of the drug cartel.

Priscilla Orta, an immigration attorney with Lawyers for Good Government in Brownsville, Texas, said a Honduran woman in the Mexican border city of Reynosa said a man she accuses of raping her contacted her through her phone. , which he was using to secure an appointment.

The woman was raped again, Orta said, who hasn\’t been able to reach her since.

It\’s heartbreaking to realize that you\’re just going to have to put up with the abuse in Mexico and keep putting up with it because if you don\’t, you could hurt yourself forever in the long run,” the attorney said.

Orta said he could previously ask US border officials at crossing points to prioritize children with cancer, torture victims and members of the LGBTQ community, and they would usually schedule a meeting. But local officials have informed her that they no longer have any leads from Washington.

They don\’t know what to do with these extremely vulnerable people,\” Orta said, adding that migrants face difficult questions. \”Do you risk never being eligible for asylum? Or do you try to wait for an appointment despite the danger?

Vargas, a farmer, has no doubts that he can prove that he and his family fled Honduras out of fear, the first requirement for entry into the United States to start the years-long legal process for safe haven. His iPhone is filled with photos of him lying in a hospital bed, tubes snaking out, his swollen face covered in bandages. He has knots of scar tissue on each side of his head from a bullet that went through his right check and exited the left side of his head. Similar scar tissue dots his back and side.

His spirits lifted after Title 42 ran out and the other asylum seekers at a Tijuana shelter left on dates. Two weeks later, he was dismayed.

I can\’t find enough work here. Either I\’ll have to go back to Honduras, but I\’ll probably be killed, or I don\’t know, he said. I feel so hopeless.


Salomon reported from Miami.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, transmitted, rewritten or redistributed.

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