Disability Law United Files Complaint: CBP One App Blocks People with Disabilities From Seeking Asylum

On March 25, 2024, the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement
Center and the Texas Civil Rights Project filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) on the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) One Phone Application.

CBP One was launched as a mobile application in October 2020, and its uses have since expanded to allow for migrants to pre-schedule a time and place to present at a port of entry. If an individual cannot use the app and instead crosses the Rio Grande, they’re generally presumed ineligible for asylum. Our complaint addresses the app’s gross inaccessibility to people with disabilities.

Our complaint highlights only a few of the many examples of people who face barriers to asylum eligibility because the app’s functionality is inaccessible. These stories include:
● A woman with a medical condition that prevented her from opening her eyes. The app’s facial recognition software did not recognize her as a live person, so an employee at a migrant shelter and another migrant had to physically hold her eyelids open to successfully take her required photo.
● A man in a wheelchair had a medical condition that prevented him from holding a phone. The regular seizing of his hands made it impossible to use the app without assistance.
● A man who spoke only an Indigenous language, had intellectual disabilities, and had a history of being abused could not understand the app or how to use it.
● A man with intellectual and developmental disabilities waited 6 months for his appointment
and relied on a primary caregiver to explain and navigate the app for him.
● An individual who was blind needed others to read the app aloud and enter responses for them.

Individuals are forced to return to the app every day to register for the appointment lottery. Despite the many documented instances of inaccessibility, there is no formal procedure to request accommodations or obtain a CBP One exception, and there is no place in the app to indicate a disability or medical condition.

In addition to discrimination against disability, the app is rife with other issues, including:
● No mechanism for individuals to address language barriers or illiteracy. To use the app, an individual must read and write in English, Spanish, French, or Haitian Creole.
● Technical problems that regularly cause error messages. The app often crashes, kicking people out before they are able to register for their appointments. Crashes can happen due to poor internet connection, which is common in shelters along the border.

“Migrants with disabilities face unlawful discrimination and unequal access to the asylum process due to the inaccessibility of the CBP One app. As a result, they wait longer at the border and face greater threats to their health and well-being. The Department of Homeland Security must act quickly to bring CBP One into compliance with federal law and ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to the asylum process,” said Kate Thorstad (she/her), Staff Attorney with Disability Law United.

Disability Law United and TCRP are asking the DHS Office of CRCL to investigate and ensure that DHS makes CBP One accessible for people with disabilities. We also ask that those who develop policy at the border call on DHS to remove these barriers to accessing asylum and recognize that “legally” requesting asylum is nearly impossible. Even if you are a person without disabilities, are literate in the languages provided, and have access to the app and medical care, you may still wait months for your appointment date under threat of abuse by local gangs or bad government actors.

For media inquiries or questions about this complaint, please email Patricia Cronin, Development Director, at pcronin@creeclaw.org

You can read the full filing here.

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