EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Joao held on tight to a manila folder as he stood in line in the middle of the Paso del Norte Bridge.
The folder held a printout of an asylum interview appointment scheduled for noon Friday at the El Paso port of entry. He viewed that paper as a ticket to join family members in Dallas, start a job search, and possibly secure a piece of the American dream.
The native of Aragua, Venezuela, waited and waited but U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers never called his name. He asked other asylum-seekers in line what could have gone wrong and came to a stark realization.
“You must send confirmation, but it did not get to them. We are all having a lot of problems with that. The page freezes,” the Venezuelan migrant said, referring to the CBP One mobile app through which migrants from that South American country must schedule asylum interviews.
Much like the page, Perez’s dreams are now on pause.
The U.S. government in October began requiring Venezuelan nationals to apply for asylum remotely using the app. On Jan. 5, the CBP One app became the mandatory vehicle for Haitians, Cubans and Nicaraguans as well.
“We are all having difficulties. The processes are slow, the page collapses,” said Ariel Nichiriu, another Venezuelan who had to walk back to Mexico after her name was not called on Friday. “We ask the U.S. government to be lenient. We have children and we are on the streets (of Juarez, Mexico), experiencing many needs.”
Nichiriu arrived in Juarez with her small children a month ago fleeing violence and a lack of economic opportunities.
She said she has been trying to make an appointment through CBP One but, just when she thinks it is finished, the page freezes. “We try it during the day, we try it at night, in the early hours of the morning and we get no response,” she said.
The group of about 30 migrants grew restless on the Mexican side of the bridge as the afternoon wore on and their names were not called. Some names did get called. “Carmen Zavala … Gonzalez, Carlos … Isabel MIranda Camacho Munoz!” a CBP officer holding a list called out at the middle of the bridge.
A CBP official told Border Report that every asylum-seeker with a valid appointment for 12 p.m. who showed up at the Paso del Norte Bridge on Friday was admitted to the port of entry. However, those who showed up with printouts but failed to complete the process and thus had no confirmed appointment could not be admitted for processing.
The asylum-seekers’ struggles with CBP One are not confined to the El Paso, Texas-Juarez, Mexico corridor. Eight-hundred miles away in Reynosa, migrants from Peru and Haiti also are having problems.
Migrant advocates and the various government organizations that deal with migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border urge asylum-seekers to seek out qualified help if they’re having problems with CBP One. Some have suggested that broadband capacity and internet speed in Mexico and other countries from where appointments are sought might be part of the issue.
“We have information that people are looking for help (with CBP One),” said Tiago Almeida, head of the International Organization for Migration in Juarez. “IOM and other organizations that work in Juarez are working to help migrants access that service, which is free.”
Friday’s crowd at the Paso del Norte Bridge dispersed peacefully after the migrants realized no more names would be called.
“We don’t want to jump to conclusions yet,” said Miguel, another Venezuelan whose name was not called. “We hope everything will work out even though we don’t have precise information of where our process stands now. We hope we will be able to get to the other side eventually and finally live in peace.”