mexico launches new app to streamline asylum process amid surging numbers of asylum seekers
Mexico is set to unveil a new mobile application aimed at expediting its asylum process, addressing the unprecedented influx of asylum seekers the country is facing. The move comes in the wake of a similar app introduced in the United States, which faced severe criticism for its glitches and usability challenges. With the rising number of asylum applications in Mexico City surpassing those in Tapachula on the Mexico-Guatemala border, the Mexican government sees the app as a necessary tool to manage the overwhelming demand.
The Need for an App to Manage the Influx of Asylum Seekers
Andrés Ramírez, head of Mexico’s refugee assistance agency (COMAR), recently highlighted the necessity of implementing an app to effectively handle the surge in asylum requests. Ramírez expressed concern over the agency’s inability to cope with the increasing number of asylum seekers, stating, “We’re having so many people that we simply cannot cope.” During the first 18 days of May alone, Mexico City received more asylum applications than Tapachula, with 3,300 applications filed in Mexico City and 3,000 in Tapachula, according to Ramírez.
The upcoming app, referred to as the “pre-registration system,” will enable individuals to register their intent to seek asylum online, with the goal of expediting the processing of applications. Initially launching in Mexico City, the app is expected to expand to other areas in the future. Ramírez attributed the surge in asylum seekers in part to the end of Title 42 in the United States, which prompted many individuals to seek refuge in Mexico after their hopes of crossing the US-Mexico border were dashed by a new rule implemented by the Biden administration.
Lessons from the US CBP One App and the Criticisms
The app developed by the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) called CBP One faced intense criticism from immigrant advocacy groups. Concerns were raised regarding accessibility for migrants who lacked smartphones, limited internet access, language barriers, and the app’s facial recognition technology’s handling of darker skin. Nevertheless, CBP defended the app’s effectiveness, stating that over 79,000 individuals have scheduled appointments since its launch in January 2023. In response to the criticisms, CBP revamped the app to address some of the concerns and expanded its availability to people in central Mexico, not just those on the US-Mexico border.
Mexico’s Approach and Experts’ Warnings
Mexico’s asylum software application shares similarities with the US CBP One app, with individuals initiating the process by submitting their information online. However, there is a significant difference: Mexico’s app allows individuals to apply for asylum from within Mexican territory. Despite this distinction, immigration experts caution against relying solely on apps in the asylum process. Kica Matos, president of the National Immigration Law Center, argued, “You shouldn’t have to schedule an appointment when you’re running for your life.”
Matos, who witnessed the use of the CBP One app firsthand, labeled it a “logistical and humanitarian failure” that should not be replicated by Mexico or any other country. She stressed the plight of migrants who faced dangerous conditions while waiting in Mexico and experienced glitches, facial recognition issues, and language barriers. Aid groups have also expressed concerns about the unsustainable number of migrants waiting in Mexico City for their asylum claims, emphasizing the challenges of overcrowded shelters and the lack of basic necessities.
The Current Situation and Future Projections
As of May 18, over 56,000 individuals had sought asylum in Mexico since the beginning of the year, according to Ramírez. Based on this trend, COMAR anticipates receiving a record-breaking 140,000 asylum applications by the end of the year. The top nationalities seeking asylum in Mexico include Haitians, Hondurans, Cubans, Venezuelans, and Salvadorans, with Angolans being the only non-Western Hemisphere nationality among the top ten, according to COMAR data. Mexico’s decision to launch a new app to expedite the asylum process reflects the country’s need to manage the overwhelming number of asylum seekers. While drawing lessons from the US CBP One app, Mexico aims to create an application that addresses the unique challenges faced by migrants within its own borders. However, experts and advocacy groups caution against relying solely on apps for asylum processing, emphasizing the importance of fair and humane systems that prioritize the rights of asylum seekers in a 21st-century world