Washington (February 21, 2023) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) urging it to cease using its problematic CBP One app. DHS has required migrants seeking asylum at the southern border to use the app and submit sensitive information, including biometric data and precise location data, raising serious privacy concerns. The CBP One app has also suffered from technical problems, including facial recognition software misidentifying people of color. The app further presents barriers for asylum seekers who do not have cellular or internet access. The Senator’s letter to DHS also raises concerns that the CBP One app promotes the false notion that an appointment is required to seek asylum in the United States and the expectation of its expanded use once Title 42 restrictions are lifted carries profound long-term implications for the U.S. immigration system.

“This expanded use of the CBP One app raises troubling issues of inequitable access to — and impermissible limits on — asylum, and has been plagued by significant technical problems and privacy concerns. DHS should shelve the CBP One app immediately,” Senator Markey wrote to DHS. “Rather than mandating use of an app that is inaccessible to many migrants, and violates both their privacy and international law, DHS should instead implement a compassionate, lawful, and human rights centered approach for those seeking asylum in the United States.”

The letter continues, “Technology can facilitate asylum processing, but we cannot allow it to create a tiered system that treats asylum seekers differently based on their economic status — including the ability to pay for travel — language, nationality, or race.”

In the letter, Senator Markey requested that DHS respond to the following questions by March 10, 2023:

  1. Will DHS commit to permanently cease using the CBP One application to screen asylum applicants? If not, why not, and will DHS at least temporarily stop using it until DHS can remove any biometric technology and geolocation functionality and fix the app’s technical issues?
  2. Will DHS ensure that there is an alternative means for migrants to seek asylum at the southern border, one that does not require an app or internet access? Currently, are asylum seekers who lack a smartphone or internet access — and therefore cannot schedule an appointment through CBP One — turned back when they present themselves at a point of entry (POE)?
  3. How is DHS preventing the CBP One app from discriminating against applicants of color, including the app’s rejecting photos of applicants with darker complexions?
  4. What assistance, if any, is DHS providing to asylum seekers whose photos are rejected, or who receive error messages or experience other technical problems with CBP One? Can migrants seeking asylum at the southern border still exercise that right without using the CBP One app?
  5. Before CBP One’s expanded rollout, was the application tested to screen for technology glitches or failures? If not, why not?
  6. Before CBP One’s expanded rollout, were civil society or nongovernmental organizations consulted? If not, why not?
  7. Why are only eight POEs participating in CBP One? How and why did DHS decide on this number and the specific locations? 
  8. How many appointments does DHS make available each day through the CBP One app?
  9. In what geographic areas does the CBP One application work and how was this decided? 
  10. How is DHS working with Mexico to ensure the safety of individuals who must travel in order to present themselves at one of the eight participating POEs?
  11. The CBP One app is available only in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole languages. This makes the app inaccessible to asylum seekers who speak a different language. How did DHS decide on these three languages? What options are available for asylum seekers using the CBP One app who don’t speak those three languages?
  12. What steps is DHS taking to prevent exploitation of asylum seekers through clone apps or scam attempts? How is DHS defending against misinformation around the CBP One app?
  13. How is DHS safeguarding biometric and geolocation information obtained through use of the CBP One App? How is DHS ensuring that this information cannot be misused? Has CBP shared any personal information collected by the CBP One App with any other government agencies or law enforcement entities? If so please describe that sharing in detail.

Last month, Senator Markey sent a letter to President Biden calling on the Administration to reverse the expansion of Title 42 and abandon the proposed asylum “transit ban” rule. After the President visited the southwest border and met with Mexican President López Obrador, Senator Markey wrote to senior Biden administration officials sounding the alarm on paramilitary vigilante groups patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border and intimidating, harassing, and detaining migrants. Senator Markey is the author of the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, legislation that would prohibit use of biometric technology by federal agencies.