(CNN) — The government of Mexico will launch a new application to speed up the asylum process at a time when the number of asylum seekers reaches record numbers, even after a similar application in the United States has come under sharp criticism for its failures and difficulties of usage.
Andrés Ramírez, director of the Mexican Commission for Aid to Refugees (COMAR), told CNN that he thought an application was needed to handle the overwhelming number of asylum applications in Mexico City.
“We’re getting so many people we just can’t keep up,” Ramírez said.
Ramírez said that for the first time in his agency’s history, during the first 18 days of May, more asylum applications were filed in Mexico City than in the southern Mexican city of Tapachula, on the border with Guatemala.
During that time, 3,300 applications were filed in Mexico City and 3,000 in Tapachula, Ramírez said.
The new application, simply called the ‘pre-registration system’, will allow people to register their intention to apply for asylum online and is expected to speed up the process. According to Ramírez, it is expected to launch next week only in Mexico City with more areas to be added later.
Ramírez believes the influx is due in part to the end of Title 42 in the United States, which has drawn many more people to Mexico in hopes of crossing the border. Those hopes have been dashed by a tough new rule enacted by the Biden administration that prevents most asylum-seekers who have traveled through other countries from getting protection in the United States if they enter the country illegally.
Ramírez also said that some asylum seekers in Mexico City may still be waiting to get an appointment on the US Customs and Border Protection’s CBP One app, through which users can make appointments to enter legally through a port of entry to submit their asylum application.
‘App’ for asylum seekers
The US CBP One app has been heavily criticized by immigrant advocacy groups, who say some immigrants don’t have the resources to get a smartphone, don’t have adequate internet access to use the app, and may have difficulty using language and literacy barriers. The groups have also raised concerns about how the app’s facial recognition technology treats darker skin.
The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) told CNN that the app has performed as expected and more than 79,000 people have made appointments since its launch in January 2023. CBP also revamped the app earlier this month to address some of the concerns and for the first time allowed people in central Mexico, not just on the US-Mexico border, to apply.
Mexico’s asylum application is similar to CBP One in that people start the process by entering their information online, which should speed up processing. But there is a significant difference, as Ramírez points out: Unlike the CBP One app, his agency’s app allows people to apply for asylum from within Mexican territory.
However, immigration experts warn against using questions in the asylum process.
“You shouldn’t make an appointment when your life is in danger,” says Kica Matos, president of the National Immigration Law Center, who has witnessed firsthand use of the CBP One app.
“The CBP One application is a humanitarian and logistical failure that should not be replicated by Mexico or any other country,” Matos said.
Matos said he has encountered countless migrants fleeing danger in their home countries and waiting in Mexico in dangerous conditions, with many experiencing problems, facial recognition issues for those with darker skin and internet access issues.
Meanwhile, the number of migrants living in limbo as they wait in Mexico City for their asylum claims has become dangerously unsustainable, humanitarian groups say.
José Antonio Silva, migration projects coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières in Mexico City, says his organization is concerned about the health and living conditions of those currently in overcrowded shelters or living on the streets.
“Shelters, most with their own resources, face not only overcrowding problems, but also the challenge of being able to cover people’s different basic needs: health, food, water, hygiene, sanitation and information,” he said Silva.
Silva said the migrants staying in the overcrowded shelters are predominantly Haitians and Venezuelans, but also Mexican and Central American, with some Afghans and Angolans as well.
Their observations coincide with COMAR data, which shows that during the first four months of the year, the top five asylum-seeking nationalities in Mexico were Haitians, Hondurans, Cubans, Venezuelans and Salvadorans. Angolan was the only nationality from outside the Western Hemisphere in the top 10, according to COMAR data.
Migrants are particularly vulnerable to extortion, robbery, physical and verbal assault, sexual abuse and discrimination, and Silva fears that sleeping on the street could increase their chances of being victimized again.
From January 1 to May 18, 2023, more than 56,000 people applied for asylum in Mexico, according to Ramírez. At this rate, Ramírez said the agency expects him to receive about 140,000 applications by the end of the year, a record number.
“Seeking asylum is a legal right that shouldn’t depend on owning a smartphone or using an app,” Matos said. “Instead, our countries should work together to create just and humane systems that are responsive to the realities of our world in the 21st century.”