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Migrants face violence while waiting in Mexico under year-old asylum rule, new report says

It’s been a year this month since the pandemic-era protocol Title 42 expired at the border and  new asylum restrictions took hold. Under Title 42, border officers could turn migrants away without giving them a chance to ask for protection.

Migrants must apply to meet with border officers through an app called CBP One. Only 1,450 appointments are available daily at a handful of ports of entry border-wide, including in Nogales. That's up from the 1,250 daily appointment last summer.

But Christina Asencio, director of research and analysis and refugee protection with Human Rights First, says that's still far too little. 

She and other researchers interviewed hundreds of migrants along the Arizona-Sonora border and elsewhere for a new Human Rights First  report out this month. In it, they say they've documented over 2,500 cases of kidnappings and other violent attacks on asylum seekers and migrants who are stuck in Mexico.

"People are stranded in Mexico in places where they're targeted specifically because they're migrants, and based on other characteristics they may have, such as race," she said. "And this is while they're targeted and forced to try to contend with this limited lottery-based CBP One appointment."

CBP One is currently available in three languages and requires a smartphone to use — both of which Asencio says limit migrants' ability to use it. 

Under the new asylum policy, migrants who are apprehended between ports of entry and those who try to enter a port of entry without a CBP One appointment may also subject to harsher restrictions — like proving they tried and failed to get protection in a country they passed through before getting to the U.S.-Mexico border.  

She says in Nogales, Sonoran officials are maintaining a list of migrants who are waiting to get a CBP One appointment or are unable to get one because of language barriers or other issues. That wait is up to seven months long.

"And so many people in Nogales, on this waitlist, are Mexican nationals who in effect are being metered by the U.S. government, because CBP is only processing a handful of people per day from this waitlist," Asencio says.

A federal court found that to be unlawful, but the policy is still active as the case makes its way through 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.