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Activists report mixed results for asylum access 2 months after Title 42 ends

It's been two months this week since Title 42 came to an end. The pandemic-era protocol made it nearly impossible to walk up to a port of entry and ask for asylum — despite laws that require it. 

Pedro de Velasco is the education and advocacy director at the Kino Border Initiative, an aid group based in Nogales, Sonora. He says that’s still a problem for migrants arriving now.

"They’re telling us that it was violence, it was some form of persecution that made them leave their hometowns and arrive to our border, and it’s until they arrive here that they learn that they cannot simply approach the port of entry and request admission because there’s a wait line," he said. 

Migrants are supposed to schedule asylum appointments through the CBP One app. But De Velasco says that's just not an option for many — some face immediate harm in Mexico, others don't have access to a smartphone or can't read and write.

As a result, he says families without appointments have been lining up at the port since May, sometimes waiting days or weeks in line for the chance to speak with a U.S. border officer. 

The CBP One app is available at a handful of ports of entry, including Nogales.  

Daniel Martinez, a volunteer with the Kino Border Initiative, says some people are waiting in line for days or even weeks at the DeConcini Port of Entry, including on the night of July 10, when heavy rainstorms rolled over the twin cities of Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico.

"I haven’t been here in like two or three days just the way that our shifts work out, but there are still families that I have been seeing since last week. So they have to stay here, and I can’t imagine, like yesterday, with all the rains," he said.

Martinez and other volunteers have been making daily trips to the port of entry to hand out food to asylum seekers waiting in line to meet with border officers. Rights advocates say border authorities are prioritizing migrants with CBP One appointments, but, unlike other ports, they haven’t turned anyone away without one.

Under a new rule enacted by the Biden administration in May, people seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border could be denied if they don’t seek protection in another country first. The rule is now the subject of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, which argues in entails portions of Trump-era asylum rules already struck down in federal court.

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.