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Migrants apply for entry through new app

 January 20, 2023 at 4:21 PM PST

S1: A mobile app for asylum applications gets mixed reaction.

S2: You know , I didn't go to law school to be tech support for CBP , but that seems like what this is turning into.

S1: I'm Jade Hindman. This is KPBS midday edition. We'll explore some of the issues with the new mobile app and if it will be helpful. And we'll tell you about a few options to celebrate the Lunar New Year in your weekend preview. That's ahead on Midday Edition. As the migrant crisis at the southern border intensifies , the Biden administration has unveiled a mobile app and allows asylum seekers to schedule appointments to be considered for entry into the U.S.. KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis spoke with migrants in Tijuana struggling to navigate the system. The fatal. Handicap.

S3: Handicap. If you are listening to Cristina Valencia , trying to schedule an appointment through U.S. Customs and Border Protection. CBP one app. CBP one is a mobile app that asylum seekers and other migrants who don't have a valid visa must now use to get into the U.S.. Valencia , who is a migrant from the Mexican state of Michoacan , is having technical difficulties.

S4: Communicating , not only for my cares , he said , because get a ladder.

S3: He says that the Wi-Fi at the Tijuana migrant shelter he's living in isn't strong enough for the app. It keeps crashing on him. So he came to get some help at Tijuana's Palacio Municipal , the local city hall. That's where city employees are helping migrants create their own profiles on CBP. On this app is the latest effort by the Biden administration to deal with the migrant crisis. Since 2020 , border officials have turned away 2.5 million people , including many asylum seekers at the ports of entry. Enrique Lazaro is the director of Tijuana's migrant services department. He says between 30 and 40 migrants come to city hall every day asking for help.

S4: Those meaning we handle this puzzles. It's the optimal return. It's regions of EL policy and municipality , fearing.

S3: All of them are fleeing their home , he says. And they've already tried crossing the border. They were turned away because of Title 42 and were told to sign up through the app. Title 42 is a controversial border policy that allows CBP agents to deny asylum seekers entry without a court hearing. Lazaro says there are obvious problems with the app. Some migrants don't have a smartphone or Internet access. Also , the app is only available in Spanish and English. But overall , Lucero says that there are more positives and negatives.

S4: And is better policy development as.

S3: This app gives them direct access to the U.S. asylum system and most importantly , an appointment date to be considered for entry. In theory , Lucero believes that all of this should make migrants less vulnerable to human smugglers. Nonetheless , immigrant rights activists are not bullish on CBP one. Erika Pinedo is a litigation and policy director at ALO Toledo , an L.A. based nonprofit that helps migrants in Mexico. She says her office has already seen vulnerable migrants get taken advantage of.

S2: So we are already seeing people charging thousands of dollars to help folks fill out the CBP one application , especially Haitians who don't speak English or Spanish.

S3: Apart from the language and technological barriers , Pinedo says CBP one essentially makes seeking asylum , like trying to buy tickets to a Taylor Swift concert.

S2: Whether or not you get an appointment is based on the strength of your Internet connection and chance. All right. So it works like Ticketmaster. So when you have a concert that's going to sell out , everyone presses the button at the same time and some people get tickets and some people don't. And that's basically what CBP one has reduced.

S1: The U.S. asylum system to.

S3: There are also concerns about the app's facial recognition feature. Applicants need to take a photo of their face to create a profile. Studies show that other forms of facial recognition technology used by the federal government do a poor job of identifying people of certain races and ethnicities.

S2: There are really high error rates with certain races , especially black and Asian applicants. So we would expect that people who are not white are going to have a harder time with the facial recognition feature.

S3: Back in Taiwan , US policy nominees apart. We saw this play out in real time. An elderly Haitian woman named Maria struggled to get the app to recognize her face. She grew increasingly frustrated as she held a phone in front of her face and waited for the app to scan. Maria tried dozens of times. The phone couldn't make out her black face from the dark background. People told her to turn around to face the light noise. And for a second , it seemed to work. The face appeared on the screen and the app began to scan. Then the screen went blank.

S2: I really think not.

S3: Assuming that Maria eventually gets the app to work for her. She'll have to wait until at least February for an appointment. All January appointments are already booked.

S1: And Gustavo Solis joins us now. Gustavo , welcome back to the program.

S3: Thank you , Jane. Happy to be here.


S3: Well , first we have to mention Title 42 , because that's kind of what's driving all this. Title 42 is , of course , the pandemic era public health order that lets border protection agents turn away migrants , including asylum seekers away from the border without due process. And Title 42 also gives them the power of discretion to exempt individuals from Title 42 on a case by case basis. And that's where CBP one app comes in. It's how they get how how migrants get this title 42 exemption. Now , before the app , migrants who wanted a title 42 exemption had to go through nonprofits who vetted them and gave Customs and Border Protection a list of people that they deemed worthy enough of exemptions. And it was a pretty bad process that everyone kind of hated because it put nonprofits in this horrible position of having to pick winners and losers when it came to the exemption. So now , in theory , CBP one app gives migrants access to those exemptions without having to go through a third party.

S1: And you outlined several issues with the app , including facial recognition and wi fi issues.

S3: I mean , there are a lot of problems with the app. Some are obvious and some are not the obvious. The obvious ones are that it's only available in English and Spanish. So good luck if you only speak Haitian Creole or an indigenous language like now , that or you could take Maya or if you're illiterate. Second obvious problem is you need a smartphone with reliable internet access to use the app. Keep in mind that we're talking about a particularly poor and vulnerable population , right ? Migrants shelters in Tijuana just recently during last weekend's storm. They didn't have electricity for several days , so that's four days with no power to be able to charge their phones. And as you mentioned earlier , the facial recognition feature is a problem , especially for darker skinned migrants. Several studies have shown that facial recognition software has historically struggled to recognize faces of black and Asian people compared to white people.

S1: As you mentioned , migrants seeking asylum are already in a pretty vulnerable position as you report. This app might be putting them in an even more vulnerable spot.

S3: I mean , they always have been. And it's kind of built into almost every aspect of the migrant experience. Right. Some people will charge them to use the bathroom , to use a phone. Law enforcement officers will take their money. Criminal organizations will kidnap them. Some shelters will force them to work in exchange for a bed. In this case , nonprofits that work with migrants have already reported people being charged as much as $2,000 to get them registered for the app , which , to be clear , is free. It's free to download , free to use , free to register. But people are coming up to migrants. The ones I've heard of are almost all Haitian migrants who don't speak English or Spanish. Somebody will come and say , Hey , give me $2,000 and I'll get you an app. I'll get you an appointment through this CBP one app.


S3: The overwhelming majority of them do , just based on the trips that I've gone down there to migrant shelters. I mean , I will say that Chinese company , Weiwei is very popular in Mexico , and their smartphones are a lot cheaper than the ones for sale over here. And the ones that don't have it , they borrow from a friend. And when we're talking about a technology barrier , it isn't so much access to the phones themselves , it's the ability to use them , particularly among the older generation. I mean , just think of how many times my parents call me to ask me how to turn Netflix on the TV. It is kind of that type of situation , you know.


S3: I mean , it's given some migrants a clear path to the U.S.. Like one one of them 19 year old migrant from the state of Michoacan , a gay man who's kind of fleeing persecution on those grounds , said that he he felt a weight lifted off his shoulders once he got registered on the app , because once he's registered now , he knows he can just get up every morning and try to get an appointment. And it's a straightforward process. Now , obviously , it's easier said than done , but that's way more comforting than being told to wait indefinitely for the end of Title 42. I mean , they've been waiting for almost three years. And I will say that migrants are kind of by nature , hopeful , resilient people. I mean , think about what it takes to make that dangerous journey from South and Central America to the southern border. It's not for the faint of heart. These people don't give up easily. They're incredibly strong and resilient and hopeful.


S3: But I will say that officials in Taiwan are happy about it. They do see it as a sign in the right direction. In the feature , I talked to the head of Tijuana's migrant services department and he basically said from his perspective , it's good because it keeps migrants moving , right ? CBP one keeps migrants moving. Like I said , about 200 got in on Wednesday , and they hope that those numbers stay the same. So 200 every day leaving Tijuana would be good for them because it prevents migrant shelters from becoming too overwhelmed. It kind of goes back to making Tijuana as a transitory port along the migration route instead of kind of like this bottleneck that has become over the last couple of years.


S3: But they're worried about the narrow pathway that it is. And keep in mind that it was introduced with an expansion of Title 42 and a transit ban that both will prevent even more migrants from seeking safe and legal protections in the U.S.. The Biden administration has framed these policy changes , policy announcements as a carrot and stick approach , and advocates aren't denying that the carrier is there , and that's a good thing. But they're far more concerned with the fact that the stick is a lot stronger. In other words , they think that it wasn't an even tradeoff. They got way more stick for a little bit of carrot.

S1: I've been speaking with KPBS , investigative border reporter Gustavo Solis. Gustavo , thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.

S3: Thank you , Jane. I appreciate it.

S1: You're listening to KPBS midday edition. I'm Jade Hindman. For our weekend arts preview , we have some blue sky artwork , a poetry reading , harp music and a few options to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Joining me with all the details is KPBS arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans. Julia , welcome.

S2: Hi , David. Thanks for having me.

S1: So first , let's talk about San Diego harpist Tasha Smith , Godinez. She's celebrating a new album this weekend. Can you tell us a little bit about it ? Yeah.

S2: So Tasha Smith , Godinez , she is a prolific local harp performer and recording artist , and she actually also runs a record label. So she's very busy. And she put out a new album called Out of the Desert. And it's mostly works written during the pandemic. And one common thread of these songs is the sense of refuge or rescue. The album ends with this five song series called My Soul Floats on the Sea , and we're listening to Drifting from that series. It's really lovely. Percussionist Christopher Garcia and Domenico and so on. Viola accompany Godinez on a lot of these songs , and they'll also be at the album release concert. It's Saturday night at 730 at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Mission Hills , and it's free.

S1: And now some visual arts. San Diego artist Cecelia Wong Kaiser has a new solo exhibition called Blue Sky. What do you know about her work ? Yeah.

S2: So this exhibition is at Be Free Studio in La Hoya , and it's a collection of about 40 paintings by Cecilia Wong Kaiser. They're all unified by her use of a bright sky blue or a turquoise backdrop. And I talked to Kaiser last week about her route to becoming an artist , which is definitely nonlinear. And these sunny , happy paintings are actually kind of rebellious. So she was born in Myanmar , known then as Burma , and her parents fled the country when she was just two years old. So she was raised in the south where her father was a professor. Ultimately , she went to Brown University to study art , but she fell out of place painting what she loved here. She felt like she should be doing these bold , angry gestures , but at the time she just wanted to work on this ongoing series of paintings of chairs like these little portraits of chairs that was considered to be not appropriately expressing my oppression , which was confusing for me because I didn't feel like an oppressed person. I felt like a privileged person. It just it wasn't my story. How could portraits of Cherice be subversive ? And yet they were , because it wasn't what I was supposed to be doing. And Keizer has expanded beyond those chairs by now. But you can definitely see in her work that she paints why it makes her happy. And in this exhibition , it be free. There are lots of portraits , kind of candid scenes , like a joyous mid jump scene where she's catching people , taking selfies , and some of them are urban scenes are still lifes. A few of my favorites are these museum scenes , but the artwork on display has been swapped out for her blue sky , and it's all on view now through early February , and there's an opening reception on Saturday from 5 to 7.

S1: And hopefully those who go see her work will feel that same happiness. Next , there is a poetry reading in North Park tomorrow night. Tell us more. Yeah.

S2: Yeah. This is poet Anna Carter's book launch for her new collection , Blush and Blink. I love Curtiz's poetry. It's this really great contrast of sad and funny at the same time. It's. It's both approachable but also feels deeply private. And she has a bunch of poetry collections and chapbooks out , so I am excited for this new one. It's published by local art press and bookstore. LANG Books. LANG Books is part of the evolution of swish gallery space in North Park on Alcohol Boulevard , and they have a really interesting collection of art books. And so this event is Saturday from 7 to 9 at Lane Books and a Carrot I will read with Laurie Penyet and just Charles and it's free. Wonderful.

S1: Wonderful. And how about some dance underscored is a performance about the underground house , music and dance scenes.

S2: This weekend , they're bringing this evening length performance called Underscored. It's a collection of pieces and has this narrative throughline that's an image to dancers and the underground dance scene in New York City. One cool part is that it's made in collaboration with the elders in those movements and features , some of them in the performance. So the youngest dancer is 28 and the oldest is 79 years old. This is through art power at the Mandeville Auditorium , and there are two more performances tonight and Saturday at 8:00.

S1: All right. And the Lunar New Year celebration begins this weekend.

S2: And there are a bunch of lion dance performances and storytimes and crafts at public libraries around the county. You can look those up for your neighborhood and the old Globe's Free Access Community program. They will host performances on Monday evening in their outdoor courtyard at Balboa Park and also at Barbara Park. This weekend. The house of China and the International Cottages will host a big festival Saturday and Sunday both days. This is the executive officer of the House of China , David said , telling us a little bit about it.

S5: The House of China Queen and princesses will pass out red envelopes and our guests are invited to put money into the and below to feed the lion and to bring themselves good luck. We have half a. And food vendors from pastries to Filipino food. Chinese food. Light the bowels , the dumpling. A lot of tasty snack. We also have original artisans who have crafted art cards and jewelry. We also are doing a ticket raffle for a grand prize of $1,000.

S2: And this festival runs from 11 to 5:00 tomorrow and Sunday at the International Cottages.

S1: You can find details on these and more arts events and sign up for Julia's weekly arts newsletter at KPBS Mortgage Arts. I've been speaking with KPBS arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans. Julia , thanks.

S2: Thank you , Dave. Have a good weekend.

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As the migrant crisis at the southern border intensifies, the Biden administration has unveiled a mobile app to allow asylum seekers to schedule appointments for entry. Then, for our weekend arts preview, we have some "blue sky" artwork, a poetry reading, harp music and a few options to celebrate the Lunar New Year.