The Biden administration’s CBP One app -- a central component of its efforts to bring order to the ongoing migrant chaos at the southern border -- has seen its rating in app stores plummet as it faces a slew of tech issues, while drawing ire from critics on both the right and left.
The app was first released in 2020 during the Trump administration as a "single portal to a variety of [Customs and Border Protection] services." But its use and features have expanded under the Biden administration as it seeks to tackle a historic migrant crisis under its watch.
In January, the Biden administration announced that the app is being made available for migrants seeking to claim asylum at the southern border’s ports of entry to schedule appointments. The new app process will see migrants have their photo taken and submit information via the app, while scheduling an appointment up to 14 days in advance to met with a CBP official at a port of entry.
It’s part of the administration’s efforts to tackle the migrant crisis -- which saw more than 2.3 million encounters at the border in FY2022 alone -- by expanding legal avenues to asylum.
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The administration is using a carrot-and-stick approach which combines the scheduling functions of the CBP One app, while also introducing a rule that makes migrants ineligible for asylum if they fail to use the app and cross illegally between the ports after having passed through another country without seeking refuge there. The rule will come into effect when the Biden administration ends the use of Title 42 expulsions in May, but is currently being used for those who claim to qualify for an exemption to the public health order.
"The CBP One app is an innovative solution we are using to facilitate the safe and orderly arrival of noncitizens who believe they meet certain vulnerability criteria and are requesting a humanitarian exception to the CDC’s Title 42 Order," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in January. "When Title 42 eventually lifts, this new feature will join one of the many tools and processes this Administration is providing for individuals to seek protection in a safe, orderly, and humane manner and to strengthen the security of our borders."
Meanwhile, the app is also used in the administration’s expanded humanitarian parole program, which allows 30,000 migrants from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua to fly into the U.S. every month. Biden administration officials have linked the introduction of that program, along with an expansion of Title 42 removals, to a sharp drop in migrant encounters between December and January.
However, while the administration has touted the app as a gateway to legal, orderly asylum, it has been plagued by tech difficulties, including issues with taking pictures and frequent crashes when users upload data. As of this week, the app had a 2.5 (out of 5) rating on the Apple App Store and a 2.7 on the Google Play Store.
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"I have applied for some family members located in Venezuela for the Humanitarian Parole," one user said. "When trying to send the information right after taking the picture the app throws an error stating ‘SESSION EXPIRED, TRY AGAIN.’ We’ve tried over and over and nothing works."
"The app has so many bugs that needs to be fixed," another review said. "It shouldn’t be this hard to take a simple picture of your face for verification purposed [sic]."
The problems have caught the attention of immigration activists who claim that the app’s failures and glitches are interfering with the right for migrants to claim asylum. They have highlighted claims that the facial recognition technology struggles to recognize migrants with darker skin colors.
The controversy has caught the attention of at least one lawmaker in Congress. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. wrote to DHS last month calling on the administration to abandon the app, saying it promotes what he sees as a false notion that an appointment is required to seek asylum in the U.S.
"This expanded use of the CBP One app raises troubling issues of inequitable access to — and impermissible limits on — asylum, and has been plagued by significant technical problems and privacy concerns. DHS should shelve the CBP One app immediately," Senator Markey said in a letter to Mayorkas.
The app is also raising concerns from immigration hawks as well, who note that the new asylum rule that bars migrants from claiming asylum has an exemption for those migrants who would be ineligible but have been unable to use the app "due to a language barrier, illiteracy, significant technical failure, or other ongoing and serious obstacles."
"It's almost like this app was designed to fail, to give the appearance that they're trying to discourage illegal aliens from exploiting the asylum system," Rob Law, Director of the Center for Homeland Security & Immigration at the America First Policy Institute, told Fox News Digital. "But it's more like a wink and a nod, and they'll just continue to allow record numbers to exploit and abuse the system and be allowed into American communities."
Law described the app as a "welcome mat" for migrants and rejected the idea that it contributes to a safe and orderly system as the administration has claimed, particularly given its ongoing issues..
"It has clearly not been tested appropriately, so to unveil it and rely upon it at the same time that you have now proposed a regulation that cites the failure of the app or the unavailability of the app as a ground to nullify the asylum bar, it almost seems like this is doing exactly what it was supposed to do, which is if you could get a couple of people through that way that helps make the border numbers disappear or at least reduce," he said. "But at the end of the day, they're not going to stop anybody who wants to come to this country from getting access."
Meanwhile, liberal groups have promised to sue the Biden administration over its asylum rule, just as 20 Republican states are also suing the administration over its humanitarian parole program.