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Immigrant Rights Groups Sue for Information on Asylum Turnbacks

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Oct 17, 2023

The American Immigration Council and the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) have filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit to compel the Biden administration to release information on its new policy of turning back people who request asylum without first obtaining an appointment via the government’s CBP One smartphone app.

Following a chaotic rollout plagued with glitches, the CBP One app remains inaccessible to the most vulnerable and marginalized people seeking asylum. Appointments can only be scheduled while the user is physically present in parts of Mexico where violence against migrants is on the rise. Some asylum seekers have spent months desperately trying to secure an appointment, to no avail. Under the new turnback policy, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers have denied those unable to obtain an appointment access to the asylum process altogether. In addition, disturbing reports have emerged of Mexican officials, in apparent coordination with CBP, preventing asylum seekers without appointments from even reaching U.S. ports of entry to request protection.

In July, the American Immigration Council and CGRS filed a FOIA request seeking information regarding the government’s treatment of asylum seekers without CBP One appointments, as well as any communications between CBP and Mexican government officials regarding the app and asylum seekers’ access to U.S. ports of entry. CBP was required by law to reply to the request within 20 working days. Over three months later, the agency has produced no response.

“The Biden administration has used the CBP One app to create yet another unlawful barrier to asylum, endangering vulnerable people seeking safety,” said Neela Chakravartula, Managing Attorney of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS). “While the administration asserts that CBP continues to process all people seeking asylum at ports of entry, human rights investigators, legal services organizations, and the press have documented numerous instances of the agency turning away individuals without appointments. The public deserves answers.”

“Organizations providing services to individuals seeking protection at the southern border, and the public, need information on how CBP is processing people who have not been able to obtain an appointment through the CBP One app,” said Raul Pinto, Senior Staff Attorney for the American Immigration Council. “This information is vital to people seeking protection, particularly as they face dire conditions while waiting for their processing appointments.”