Russian seek visa at San Ysidro
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent listens to Russians seeking a humanitarian visa at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes

Migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border can now use a mobile app to schedule a time to approach a land port of entry, a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson confirmed on Thursday, a move intended to reduce crossings but which has sparked concerns over privacy and access.

The app, called CBP One, is available in English and Spanish and will allow migrants in Central and Northern Mexico who upload biographical information and a photo to request an appointment at one of eight ports in Texas, Arizona and California, according to a fact sheet.

The administration had previously announced on Thursday it would expand its use of an app, giving asylum seekers direct access to enter their information as a pre-screening step to be given an appointment.

President Joe Biden’s administration touts the app as a more regulated, potentially quicker alternative to crossing the border. But advocates worry asylum seekers will be required to submit personal information without being guaranteed entry and that some may not have access to a cell phone or internet connection.

The app rollout comes after Biden last week announced his administration would expand COVID-era “Title 42” restrictions to quickly expel Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans who cross the border back to Mexico while opening up legal pathways for those who have U.S. sponsors and enter by air.

Biden, a Democrat who intends to seek reelection in 2024, has been criticized by Republicans for what they consider permissive border policies amid record crossings.

Meanwhile, some fellow Democrats, former Biden officials and immigration advocates have lambasted his decision to expand the Trump administration’s COVID border restrictions even after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in April 2021 that they were no longer needed for public health reasons.

The new access to the CBP One app could help reduce crossings although questions remain, including how many people are aware of it and how it will function.

Pete Flores, the top CBP official overseeing ports of entry, tweeted that people could now use the app to view the “vulnerability criteria” that would warrant an exception to the Title 42 restrictions.

Tijuana authorities this week said the city would increase internet connectivity in three locations and train officials to assist migrants with applications.