McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — DHS says they have made several fixes to the government-run app that schedules asylum appointments after several migrant families recently sent their unaccompanied children alone across international bridges into South Texas because they could not get interviews together, Border Report has learned.

“DHS is committed to family unit,” a spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security told Border Report late Friday. “The CBP One app is a transparent and publicly accessible way to schedule appointments for migrants seeking to arrive at a land port of entry, which disincentivizes illegal crossing in between ports. … CBP continues to make improvements to the app based on stakeholder feedback, including updates this week that undoubtedly make it easier for family units to secure appointments as a group.”

CBP continues to make improvements to the app … that undoubtedly make it easier for family units to secure appointments as a group.”

DHS spokesperson

Border Report last week reported that several families who were waiting in northern Mexico have begun sending young undocumented children alone across the Hidalgo-McAllen-Reynosa International Bridge, from Reynosa, Mexico, and the Gateway International Bridge from Matamoros, Mexico, into Brownsville, Texas, after they told human rights workers they could not secure multiple asylum interviews at the same location or same day for their families via the app.

Some asylum-seeking families have sent their children unaccompanied across the Gateway International Bridge from Matamoros, Mexico, to Brownsville, Texas, because they could not get asylum interviews at U.S. ports altogether. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report File Photo)

Priscilla Orta, an attorney with the nonprofit Lawyers for Good Government, told Border Report that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers recently began enforcing a rule that prevents children from crossing with their parents for asylum interviews if the children do not have asylum appointments.

Orta told Border Report on Monday that CBP apparently is trying to book “family blocks” for appointments but she is unaware of any asylum-seekers successfully doing so. The agency also has eliminated its facial recognition software.

The agency told Border Report it has upgraded the app to allow better uploads of photos.

Since the agency mandated that asylum seekers use the CBP One app in January it has been fraught with technical issues and criticized by migrant advocates.

Some families have traveled over a thousand miles from the Rio Grande Valley to Tijuana where their asylum interviews were scheduled in San Ysidro, California.

Some asylum-seekers are leaving their children in dangerous northern Mexican border towns in Tamaulipas — one of the country’s deadliest states hoping that other family members will be able to cross them at a later time, Border Report has learned.

But Orta says only parents or legal guardians can cross children into the United States, and those who come with others will be considered unaccompanied minors and detained and put in the care of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

On Friday, DHS said they have upgraded the app “to provide for ease of scheduling including for family units.”

(DHS Graphic)

DHS says this is being done in “targeted locations.”

Border Report has asked DHS officials to clarify the location of those ports of entry. This story will be updated if additional information is received.

DHS officials said since the CBP One app began scheduling asylum interviews on Jan. 12 all family members have been required to have an appointment, which officials say is clear in the app.

The app is available in Spanish and now in Haitian Creole. Adding the latter language was also a recent fix made to the app after much outcry from Haitian migrant advocates.

The app actually was rolled out in 2020 to be used “as a single portal” for travel and trade to the United States, according to the DHS website.

“This app cuts out the smugglers, decreasing migrant exploitation, and improving safety and security in addition to making the process more efficient,” the DHS spokesperson told Border Report. “While DHS remains under a court order to implement Title 42 at the border, CBP One will continue to be used to schedule the arrival of migrants who meet the criteria for a humanitarian exception to the public health order.”

Title 42 is set to expire in May. The public health order has been in place since March 2020 and has prevented migrants from claiming asylum at U.S. ports of entry during the coronavirus pandemic. However, DHS officials have made exceptions for vulnerable populations, such as children and those with medical conditions.

Orta says the CBP One app essentially cuts out NGOs and nonprofits from helping asylum-seekers because the migrants must be the ones to fill out the app on their cellphone. She says Wi-Fi reception in northern Mexican border towns is spotty, and migrants often complain they have trouble navigating through the app.

DHS told Border Report that they have provided a number of opportunities for nonprofits and advocacy organizations to provide feedback and receive information about the use of the app.

The agency says it is streamlining and tweaking the app and plans to roll out upgrades in the upcoming weeks.

So far DHS says it has made the following fixes:

  • Enhanced usability in low-bandwidth scenarios.
  • Made “tweaks” to more quickly upload photos.
  • Users need to create only one profile for all family members to get appointments together.
  • Those who want to reschedule appointments to include additional family members can do so now.

DHS reported that in January, family units accounted for 54% of Title 42 exceptions; that is down from 63% in December.

Across the Southwest border, family unit encounters made up 24% of total encounters in January, down from 30% in December, DHS says.