McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — While passing out eyeglasses to asylum-seekers in northern Mexico during the holiday weekend, a South Carolina professor and migrant advocate was shocked by what he saw.

Will McCorkle, 38, an assistant professor at the College of Charleston and board member of a South Texas migrant advocacy group, met migrants in Reynosa and Matamoros, Mexico, who say they were given asylum interviews at U.S. ports of entry hundreds of miles away via the U.S. Customs and Border Protection CBP One app.

Some were told to report to Tijuana, more than 1,500 miles away. Others were given appointments at ports in Juarez, south of El Paso; Laredo and Piedras Negras, across from Eagle Pass, Texas.

“A lot of them were asking, ‘How are we going to get to Tijuana from here, and are we going to be safe going all the way across Mexico to do this interview?'” McCorkle told Border Report.

Will McCorkle, a South Carolina professor, traveled to Matamoros, Mexico, on Jan. 13, 2022, to help asylum-seekers. (Photo Courtesy: Practice Mercy)

He was among a group of educators and 15 university students from throughout the United States who came to minister and provide eyeglasses and other supplies to asylum-seekers this past MLK holiday weekend.

Alma Ruth, director and founder of the faith-based nonprofit Practice Mercy Foundation, took them south of the border. But she said she wasn’t expecting to hear so many families requesting help to travel to these Mexican ports.

“Why do we need to send them to El Paso, to Tijuana, to Eagle Pass? It’s impossible to travel like that inside Mexico without a death sentence. Even Mexicans don’t do that. And I know that because I’m from Mexico,” Ruth said.

Ruth and McCorkle’s organization helps vulnerable migrants, like Indigenous women and children as they wait in dangerous Mexican border towns, like Reynosa, during their asylum process.

Alma Ruth

Since 2021, Ruth and her volunteers have mostly been crossing from Hidalgo, Texas to Reynosa after the “Remain in Mexico” policy was abolished and migrants sent back under Title 42 began congregating by the thousands in that crime-ridden city.

But now she estimates there are about 7,000 migrants — mostly families from Venezuela — in Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas. This is near where thousands had lived for years in a previous encampment under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program, which forced them to wait in Mexico during their asylum proceedings.

Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security announced that migrants from four countries: Haiti, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba would be sent back south of the border under Title 42 and would have to apply for asylum interviews via the CBP One app.

Up to 30,000 who qualify from these countries will receive humanitarian parole per month, the rest must continue to wait in Mexico and face expulsions if they try to cross into the United States.

The app went live on Thursday, but Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, of the American Immigration Council, says the new plan was rolled out too quickly and there aren’t enough organizations on the ground in northern Mexico to help migrants fill out and understand the app. He says it isn’t even offered in Haitian Creole, the language that thousands of asylum-seekers living in Reynosa speak.

“I think the presumption on CBP’s part was that people would simply wait and see where the next time and appointment became available in their city and not travel,” Reichlin-Melnick told Border Report on Wednesday. “I’m not even remotely surprised that this is a confusing process that has likely led to unwanted outcomes.”

Reichlin-Melnick says he is not sure whether scheduling interviews requires the user to take the next appointment, which could be miles away, or that navigating the process is hard and fraught with user error.

Border Report asked CBP officials to explain the app process. This story will be updated if information is received.

Ruth says she wants to brainstorm with other nonprofits to help migrants reach the cities to make their appointments.

That could mean chartering buses, or other modes of transportation, she told Border Report.

“We need to join efforts. These people have an appointment with CBP in different regions,” Ruth said. “We need to ask what can we do. We read about the Holocaust, read about horrors of World War II, horrors of the Vietnam War, but ask, ‘What can I do now in this time of history to save lives?'”