McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The head of a nonprofit that assists asylum-seekers in multiple northern Mexico border towns tells Border Report that the DHS app for scheduling asylum interviews does not function properly south of the border.
Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, co-director of The Sidewalk School for Children Asylum Seekers, says thousands of asylum-seeking families cannot log in to the app due to low bandwidth and Wi-Fi services. But since January, this is the only legal way that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials will allow migrants to come to U.S. ports of entry for asylum interviews.
“The U.S. government is forcing, they’re telling people you have to use this app in order to legally cross, yet they’re not providing the Wi-Fi service,” Rangel-Samponaro told Border Report.
She said the situation is especially dire for asylum-seekers waiting in the Mexican border towns of Matamoros and Reynosa, south of McAllen, Texas, where thousands of Haitian migrants live in multiple shelters and encampments.
“In Matamoros and Reynosa, that’s a constant battle with everybody,” she said. “People are forced to use the CBP One app but can’t connect to it because there is no Wi-Fi service.”
She said many migrants purchase a daily Wi-Fi service, and she says at 8 a.m. CDT when appointment slots open up, there isn’t enough Wi-Fi to support the masses trying to log in.
She says on Thursday the app was not working at all for anyone in those towns.
Border Report has reached out to DHS officials to confirm the app was down, and whether the agency has tried to boost the app’s signal further south into Mexico. This story will be updated if that information is received.
In late February, DHS officials told Border Report that they had tweaked the agency’s CBP One app, including improvements to enhance usability in low bandwidth scenarios.
“The CBP One app is a transparent and publicly accessible way to schedule appointments for migrants seeking to arrive at a land port of entry, which disincentivizes illegal crossing in between ports. This app cuts out the smugglers, decreasing migrant exploitation, and improving safety and security in addition to making the process more efficient. CBP continues to make improvements to the app based on stakeholder feedback,” a DHS spokesperson said.
They also made several changes to help families to schedule group interviews at the same ports, and improve facial recognition software to better identify darker-skinned asylum-seekers, officials said.
At the time, the agency said additional changes would roll out soon. Border Report on Monday asked officials if these additional changes have been implemented, and if they are communicating with Mexican officials to boost the signal.
The agency says it is using feedback from NGOs, like the Sidewalk School, to help improve the CBP One app.
But Rangel-Samponaro questions why Wi-Fi services are so poor in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas, where these two cities are located. And why other organizations won’t help to provide more Wi-Fi to asylum seekers in Tamaulipas.
She says an expensive Starlink satellite Internet service — developed by SpaceX — has been supplied by NGOs serving Ukrainian asylum-seekers in Tijuana, Mexico, south of San Diego. But she says no one has stepped up to provide this for asylum-seekers in Tamaulipas.
Mexican officials say Starlink was granted a license to operate in Mexico in the summer of 2021. It is one of three companies offering Internet services via satellite in Mexico. The other companies include: HughesNet Mexico, and ViaSat Mexico, which also provides WiFi on commercial flights.
Rangel-Samponaro told Border Report that her organization — which exists on donations — is planning to purchase one Starlink, but she says it is very expensive. She says the hardware costs $2,500 and the monthly fee to run it costs $250, not including Internet service fees.
“This is about to cost us a lot of money and that’s for one. No one is giving any of the NGOs money like that to help the asylum-seekers in Matamoros and Reynosa,” she said.
She says one unit will service about 20 people, but she says thousands of asylum seekers in these two border cities need Wi-Fi.
She says they also hope that a desktop version of the app will be released, so those who do not have cellphones can access it. And then they could provide it at computers at their offices in Matamoros for more migrants.