The Bakersfield Californian
Asylum-seekers say US rules turned joy over end of Title 42 to anguish
TIJUANA, Mexico — The day that President Joe Biden’s administration ended a public health measure blocking many asylum-seekers at the Mexican border during the coronavirus pandemic, Teodoso Vargas was ready to show U.S. officials his scars and photos of his bullet-riddled body.
Instead, he stood frozen with his pregnant wife and 5-year-old son at a Tijuana crossing, feet from U.S. soil.
He was unsure of the new rules rolled out with the change and whether taking the next few steps to approach U.S. officials to ask for asylum in person could force a return to his native Honduras.
“I can’t go back to my country,” said Vargas, a long scar snaking down his neck from surgery after being shot nine times in his homeland during a robbery. “Fear is why I don’t want to return. If I can just show the proof I have, I believe the U.S. will let me in.”
Asylum-seekers say joy over the end of the public health restriction known as Title 42 this month is turning into anguish with the uncertainty about how the Biden administration’s new rules affect them.
Though the government opened some new avenues for immigration, the fate of many people is largely left to a U.S. government app only used for scheduling an appointment at a port of entry and unable to decipher human suffering or weigh the vulnerability of applicants.
The CBP One app is a key tool in creating a more efficient and orderly system at the border “while cutting out unscrupulous smugglers who profit from vulnerable migrants,” the Department of Homeland Security said in an email to The Associated Press.
But since its rollout in January, the app has been criticized for technological problems. Demand has far outstripped the roughly 1,000 appointments available on the app each day.
As a Honduran man, Vargas does not qualify for many of the legal pathways the Biden administration has introduced. One program gives up to 30,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans a month a shot at humanitarian parole if they apply online, have a financial sponsor in the U.S. and arrive by air. Minors traveling alone also are exempt from the rules.
Migrants who do not follow the rules, the government has said, could be deported back to their homelands and barred from seeking asylum for five years.
Vargas said he decided not to risk it. He has been logging onto the app each day at 9 a.m. for the past three months from his rented room in a crime-riddled 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 on the border “there seems to be no option right now for people to ask for asylum if they don’t have an appointment through the CBP app.”