The CBP One mobile application was designed to enhance border processing functions and expedite entry processes for individuals and cargo at ports of entry. But in recent months, CBP One has also become the primary vehicle for asylum seekers at the United States-Mexico border to schedule appointments so they can be processed for admission at a U.S. port of entry. This fact sheet and resources directory provides information and useful links about the app’s key features, its significance for asylum seekers, and its shortcomings.
What Is CBP One?
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is the nation’s primary agency responsible for safeguarding its borders, including at ports of entry.
On October 28, 2020, CBP debuted the CBP One mobile application, albeit with more limited capabilities. In the intervening months, the app has been transformed into one of the few ways that individuals arriving at the U.S.- Mexico border can remain eligible for asylum, by prescheduling appointments at ports of entry.
Today, the main functions of CBP One involve the following:
Scheduling appointments to enter the U.S.;
Requesting authorization for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans to fly to the U.S. as part of the Biden administration’s parole processes;
Checking wait times at ports of entry along the border;
Applying for provisional I-94s — records of lawful admission — before arriving by land, and accessing information about current submissions;
Requesting airport inspection of agriculture or biological articles, including live animals;
Pre-scheduling inspection appointments for perishable cargo at certain ports of entry;
Accessing personal Trusted Traveler Programs information; and
Providing advance traveler manifests for buses.
You can find general information about CBP One and its uses on CBP’s public-facing landing page for the app.
Why Are Asylum Seekers Using CBP One?
When CBP One was first used for humanitarian reasons, organizations and attorneys were the ones navigating the app on behalf of a relatively small subset of migrants. Early on, the Biden administration employed CBP One as a tool for specific organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, or the UN Refugee Agency) to identify and register individuals who had been placed in the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) — a Trump-era policy that stranded people in Mexico as they awaited U.S. immigration court hearings — so they could be brought stateside to pursue their pending cases. Likewise, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and lawyers were able to use the app to request exceptions for vulnerable people who would otherwise be subject to the Title 42 public health order, a Covid-related policy that allowed officials to quickly expel migrants despite their legal right to seek asylum.
But soon, the Biden administration expanded access to CBP One so it was available to humanitarian migrants themselves. First, Ukrainians in April 2022 started using the app to provide personal information before they arrived at ports of entry through the Uniting for Ukraine process. Then, in January 2023, migrants in northern and central Mexico were able to download CBP One and request Title 42 exceptions if they met certain vulnerability criteria. By the time the Title 42 public health order expired on May 11, the CBP One app had cemented itself as an integral part of processing for asylum seekers waiting in Mexico.
When pandemic-era expulsions ended, the Biden administration immediately instituted a new federal regulation called the “Circumvention of Lawful Pathways” Rule, which severely limited who qualified for asylum based on how migrants crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and whether they applied for alternative protections on the way there. Under the rule, one of the few methods for migrants to request asylum was to receive an appointment to present at a port of entry through the CBP One app. If someone showed up at a port of entry without an appointment — or if they tried to cross the southern border between ports of entry — they would generally be disqualified from starting the process to request asylum unless they met narrow exceptions or carve-outs for exceptionally compelling circumstances.
Because of the rule — which is facing legal challenges but remains in place as of publication — access to CBP One has become a question of life or death, as someone’s ability to request asylum in the U.S. often hinges on their ability to secure an appointment. From January 2023 to January 2024, over 459,000 people scheduled appointments at ports of entry through CBP One. But at the same time, many asylum seekers have grown frustrated with CBP One after spending weeks or months trying to secure an appointment to no avail.
To understand how CBP One has become “effectively an extraterritorial and digital port of entry,” check out Syracuse University Research Assistant Professor Austin Kocher’s peer-reviewed journal article. For more on the “Circumvention of Lawful Pathways” Rule, here’s our Q&A on the policy, plus some analysis of what it has meant for asylum seekers at the southern border. And to better understand the rule’s effects on the ground, consider Human Rights First’s report on how asylum seekers are facing continued persecution and violence in Mexico, in part because they are stranded there as they await CBP One appointments.
Are Asylum Interviews Directly Scheduled on CBP One?
The asylum interview is not directly scheduled on CBP One. In general, those who have a CBP One appointment at port of entry undergo national security and public safety checks. If they pass, they are admitted into the U.S. with parole and issued a Notice to Appear (NTA). CBP notes that the agency “does not adjudicate asylum claims.” Instead, “individuals issued a Notice to Appear and placed in removal proceedings will have the opportunity to seek relief, including asylum, or other protection before an immigration judge.” While CBP One does not provide an individual with an asylum adjudication, it starts the process where the individual can make their claim for asylum protections.
CBP is also able to process individuals who use the CBP One app through expedited removal proceedings. In those cases, asylum seekers are referred to USCIS for a credible fear interview (an initial screening test for asylum). At the moment, it appears most individuals who use the CBP One app to make an appointment at a port of entry are admitted with parole and issued an NTA. They are not referred to a credible fear interview. This could change in the future, since CBP could decide to refer individuals who use the CBP One app to the expedited removal process.
What Are Some of the Issues with CBP One?
Facial Recognition: If users want to schedule appointments at a port of entry or request travel authorization for some of the Biden administration’s parole processes — arguably CBP One’s two most high-stakes uses — they must submit a photo for a “liveness check,” supposedly to mitigate potential fraud. But widespread reports have indicated that the facial recognition feature disproportionately fails to work for individuals with darker complexions, a problem that has adversely affected African and Haitian asylum seekers.
Appointment Wait Times, Technical Errors, and Language Barriers: If there’s one word that captures CBP One’s reputation, it’s “glitchy,” as Kocher notes in his article. Migrants and immigration advocates often report crashes, bugs, confusing error messages, and problems with the geofencing (for example, someone in Tijuana — right along the U.S.-Mexico border — was wrongly told she was not in northern or central Mexico and could not use the app to schedule an appointment). In response to widespread criticism and frustration, CBP has made subtle improvements to the app. But many migrants are still experiencing long waits for appointments while stuck in dangerous conditions in Mexico. Meanwhile, the app is only available in English, Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, and Haitian Creole — plus, some of those translations have been criticized as poorly executed — creating language barriers to access.
Surveillance & Accessibility: CBP One raises privacy and surveillance questions, especially because of its photo requirements and its reliance on geolocation data.
For more on concerns about the app — both now and in the past — see the American Immigration Council’s overview of CBP One. To better understand how these issues have manifested on the ground, check out this Washington Post article.
The National Immigration Forum would like to thank Arlene Gyimah, Policy and Advocacy Intern, for her contributions to this document.