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Report: Asylum seekers are subject to violence, threats waiting on CBP One appointments

report out this month from the advocacy group Human Rights First looks at how policy enacted after the end of the pandemic-era border restrictions last May has affected asylum seekers. 

Under the new policy, asylum seekers are supposed to use the U.S. government app CBP One to make an appointment at a handful of ports of entry. Those who don’t face a higher legal threshold for getting to stay in the U.S. and ask for permanent protection. 

Chistina Asencio with Human Rights First says her report found migrants waiting for CBP appointments are being targeted by organized crime. 

"Really escalated numbers of kidnappings and then violence that accompanies these kidnapping situations, or sexual violence, of torture, physical violence … no one is really spared,"' she said. 

Aid workers and asylum seekers who spoke with Asencio’s team detailed threats and violence in border cities including Nogales, Sonora. In September, an LGBTQ+ asylum seeker was found dead in his home there, according to Asencio's report. He was while trying to obtain a CBP One appointment, which can take months to obtain.

Sonoran municipal authorities have also started a list for people needing immediate protection. But Acensio says the wait time on that list is also about four months long.

Asencio says other migrants interviewed for the report were not aware of the CBP One app or how it worked. Less than 1,500 appointments are available border-wide  through the app each day, and only at a handful of ports of entry. Activists say some ports are turning those without them away.

A team of lawyers filed suit against the Biden administration over that access earlier this year. Their suit alleges border officers are turning back some asylum seekers illegally under the new asylum rule. American Immigration Council attorney Suchita Mathur says that goes against a 2021 Biden administration policy.

"The commissioner of CBP had issued this memo saying CBP officers should not be turning back or rejecting anyone who comes to a port of entry because they don’t have a CBP One appointment," said Mathur.

Mathur is one of several lawyers representing a group of nine asylum seekers and rights groups who filed the suit. A federal judge rejected their bid to temporarily halt the turn backs outright this month, but the case is allowed to move forward.

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