CBPOne application: Technological discrimination against Haitian and African migrants, say immigrant rights organizations

CTN News

This is an exclusive information from the British newspaper The Guardian on the issue of black immigration to the United States after meeting with African and Haitian migrants and black defenders.
According to information available to the newspaper, migrants from Africa and Haiti would not be able to use the application to accept their photos, which is now mandatory to apply for asylum.

According to immigration advocates cited by the British media outlet, the U.S. government’s new mobile app for migrants to apply for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border is preventing many blacks from filing their applications due to a facial recognition bias in the technology.

Non-governmental organizations that assist black asylum seekers find that the app, CBP One, fails to register many darker-skinned people, preventing them from applying for entry into the U.S.
People who have made it to the southwest border from Haiti and African countries, in particular, are victims of an apparent algorithmic bias in the technology on which the app relies, the newspaper explains.

The Guardian further reveals that black rights advocates are protesting that since the app was launched by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) last month, algorithmic problems are severely reducing the number of black asylum seekers who can complete their applications.

The app works for some migrants but blocks others, especially the most vulnerable, said Felicia Rangel-Samponaro, co-director of the nonprofit Sidewalk School, which provides educational programs for asylum seekers in the Mexican cities of Reynosa and Matamoros, near the eastern end of the Texas border, where many Haitians live in makeshift camps. It also runs a shelter in Reynosa with the religious group Kaleo International.

There are about 4,000 black asylum seekers waiting in Reynosa and at least another 1,000 Haitians in Matamoros,” reads this Guardian newspaper feature on the thorny issue of discrimination against blacks seeking asylum in Joe Biden’s country.

Almost no one gets an appointment to apply for asylum. Neither population is represented as they should be,” said the black advocate.

With Title 42 of the HHS Act still in effect following the latest court ruling, and expanded last month to add Haitians, Nicaraguans and Cubans alongside Venezuelans as restricted nationalities in another controversial program of the Biden administration’s immigration policy, the options for seeking asylum at the border have narrowed even further, the newspaper notes.

In early January, the U.S. government announced that the new CBP One mobile app would be the only way for migrants arriving at the border to apply for asylum and be exempted from Title 42 restrictions, saying it would “reduce wait times and help ensure safe, orderly and streamlined processing.”

In the Mexican city of Tijuana, on the other side of the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego, another large community of Haitian asylum seekers is waiting and experiencing the same problems with the app, according to the nonprofit organizations that are helping them, as are people from African countries and other black migrants trying to enter.
“Facial recognition doesn’t capture images of dark-skinned people,” said Erika Pinheiro, executive director of Al Otro Lado, a binational legal and humanitarian aid organization.
Pinheiro’s organization held a workshop for Haitians in Tijuana on how to use the app a day after it went live on Jan. 12. But because the app is unable to map the characteristics of many dark-skinned asylum seekers, they can’t upload their photos to get an appointment with U.S. immigration authorities, Pinheiro told the British newspaper’s investigators.
“Haitians at the workshop were getting error after error on the app,” she said.
Ms. Rangel-Samponaro noted that others were also being blocked. “We also found that it affects darker-skinned Venezuelans,” she said.
Racial bias in facial recognition technology has been a longstanding problem. Increasingly used by law enforcement and government agencies to populate databases with biometric information, including fingerprints and iris scans, a 2020 report from Harvard University called the technology the “least accurate” identifier, particularly among darker-skinned women, for whom the error rate is more than 30 percent.

Emmanuella Camille, an attorney at the Haitian Bridge Alliance, a nonprofit organization that helps Haitian and African asylum seekers, told the newspaper that the CBP One app has helped “lighter-skinned people from other countries” get their asylum appointments “but not Haitians” and other black applicants.

In addition to the fact that facial recognition technology does not register them, there are other barriers. Many asylum seekers have outdated cell phones-if they have them-that do not support the CBP One app and often have limited or no access to the Internet.
The three nonprofits told The Guardian that they are in daily contact with U.S. CBP about problems with the app. Last week, CBP introduced a Haitian Creole version of the app, Camille said. Before that, it was only offered in Spanish and English.
Camille said migrants “are being told by CBP that the only way to cross the border is to use this app…[It’s] the only source of hope for them right now.” Rangel-Samponaro said advocates are experimenting with ways to make the technology work for darker-skinned asylum seekers. One solution they’ve come up with is to install construction lights in the Reynosa shelter, which Haitians and others shine on their faces when they take the photo to upload to the app.
“So far, it seems to be working, so adults can get past it,” she says. “But it still doesn’t work for children under the age of six.”
This prevents families from applying for asylum.
“I have yet to speak with a white asylum seeker who has encountered the same problem,” she qualified. “And we help everyone in both cities.”
Another solution is for black asylum seekers to buy brand new cell phones. “If you can afford to spend $1,000 on a new cell phone, then you can download the image no problem. But who can afford it?” wonders Rangel-Samponaro. Not someone who lives in a migrant camp,” he says.

When contacted by The Guardian journalists, CBP did not respond with comments before the publication of the British media’s investigation.

You can consult The Guardian Article via the link below:


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