A new U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) proposal would significantly expand the collection of information from non-citizens in advance of their arrival to the U.S.-Mexico border. CBP is seeking to extend and amend a data collection program at the land border that was established on an emergency basis in May 2021. NIJC submitted a comment to the Federal Register this week raising concern that CBP’s proposal lacks clarity and meaningful justification, posing uncalculated risks for the nearly 100,000 individuals whom CBP estimates will be impacted by the new process.
The CBP proposal would expand the use of a mobile application called “CBP One,” which uses facial-recognition technology to check whether individuals are enrolled in the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program, and have pending immigration cases. The app also can use its GPS function to collect information about users’ location after they submit data in advance of arriving at a port of entry. Experts have warned that CBP One could be used in ways that raise transparency, privacy and immigrants’ rights concerns.
The administration must remove all barriers to the processing of asylum seekers, and prevent CBP from creating a tiered system that creates new restrictions under the guise of technological progress. NIJC’s comment warns that the proposed data collection expansion could have unexamined consequences, leading to a large increase in non-U.S. citizens submitting face scans prior to presenting at a U.S. port of entry.
Policies blocking asylum seekers from entering the U.S. have inflicted violence against migrants and fueled organized crime. Importantly, on November 1, 2021, CBP released a memo ending the “metering” policy and providing updated guidelines on the processing of noncitizens at the southwest border. The memo addresses steps to “leverage technological and processing efficiencies,” including the “innovative use of existing tools such as the CBPOne™ mobile application.” Of concern, a DHS privacy assessment from April 2021 identified a number of privacy risks associated with the CBP One application, including the risk of the overcollection of biometrics and biographic information, and the risk the application will fail to match children.
CBP’s proposed data collection expansion raises the potential for externalizing U.S. asylum processing obligations, and subjecting thousands of families, including children, to unnecessary additional facial recognition technology. Before allowing for any such expansion, the administration needs to, at a minimum, implement clear safeguards to ensure that sensitive and private information collected by CBP is not stored in error-prone government databases, and not used to target immigrants throughout the country.
The administration should further examine the consequences associated with CBP’s data collection proposal, including the lack of transparency and concerns regarding potential violations of privacy and civil liberties. Faulty facial recognition technology and false matches run the risk of enabling CBP to detain vulnerable individuals for hours without access to a lawyer, fueling ICE enforcement actions on potentially faulty grounds, and sharing information with foreign governments in ways that put asylum seekers at risk.
The proposal also raises alarm in light of CBP’s record of abuse and lack of accountability, including its role in serious abuses against people from Haiti seeking safety in the U.S., family separation, history of detaining people in horrific conditions, use of lethal force, and racial and religious profiling. For these reasons, NIJC calls for a closer examination of the proposal and greater transparency, before giving any more authority to CBP to collect advanced sensitive data from people seeking entry into the United States.
Jesse Franzblau is a senior policy analyst at the National Immigrant Justice Center.