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Desperate migrants at border frustrated by app for gaining entry into U.S.

DHS chief on challenges of securing border
Homeland Security head responds to challenges of illegal immigration at border | 60 Minutes 12:57

Every morning, mothers at a shelter in Juarez, Mexico frantically refresh a U.S. government app at 9.a.m., hoping to get an appointment to enter America. 

By 9:05 a.m., all the appointments, and hope, are gone.

"It's [a] lottery with people's lives, with-- with people's families, with people's livelihoods, with people's wellbeing," Karina Breceda, who runs the shelter, told 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi.

The Biden administration hopes the app will dissuade migrants from entering the U.S. illegally. According to Border Patrol figures, an average of 1,800 migrants a day crossed the Rio Grande into El Paso in December, overwhelming  the city. To manage the increasing flow of migrants from crisis-stricken Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba, President Joe Biden in January expanded the use of a pandemic-era public health order, based on a law called Title 42, to expel them to Mexico.

The CBP One app was also expanded in January to allow migrants to apply for a humanitarian exemption to Title 42. Administration officials say the process is more humane than what was going on before. 

"It is not 'the most humane process' because the most vulnerable aren't, aren't getting access to it," Breceda said. 

Mothers in Juarez, Mexico try to log onto the CPB One app. 60 Minutes

Guadalupe Vazquez has spent the last two months trying to get an appointment for herself and her three children to come to the U.S. She said her husband was murdered in southwest Mexico. One of her sons had been shot in the eye and needed bullet fragments removed.

Vazquez said she's willing to wait for an appointment, but that she has a plan if she can't get one.

"I'll try to cross with a smuggler, and I'll cross with my children," she said in Spanish.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas says he doesn't claim the app and process are flawless. But he says efforts are ongoing to build a safe, orderly way for immigrants to come into the U.S.

"I understand deeply the yearning of parents to give their children opportunities that America offers," Mayorkas said. "We are a nation of laws. If people qualify under the law, then we embrace them. If they don't, then we return them."

Some, including Carla Delgado, her husband and their four children, have had success in accessing that opportunity.  Because they managed to secure appointments with the CBP One app, all the family needed to do once they reached a U.S. border crossing was undergo a series of background checks and screenings. Nothing was flagged, so they were given permission to temporarily enter the country. 

By early afternoon, they were enjoying their first slice of pizza in El Paso, Texas. 

The family plans to build a new life in Chicago while they wait for their asylum claim to be heard. It could be years before a judge determines whether the family qualifies.

Delgado family enjoys pizza in the U.S.  60 Minutes

"Our asylum system is broken," Secretary Mayorkas said. "We need Congress to fix it."

The problems at the border didn't start with the Biden administration and likely won't end with it. Congress hasn't passed any major immigration reform in nearly three decades. Secretary Mayorkas is asking Congress for additional resources on the southern border.

U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz testified before Congress that some areas of the border are in a crisis situation. Mayorkas won't call it that. 

When asked why, he said, "Because I have tremendous faith in the people of the Department of Homeland Security and a crisis speaks to me of a withdrawal from our mission. And we are only putting more force and more energy into it."

Across the border, in Juarez, pressure over immigration continues to mount. A fire at a migrant detention center late Monday killed at least 38 migrants from Central and South America who were going to be deported from Mexico.

"Juarez is in a moment of crisis," said Cristina Coronado, who runs a food program at the city's Cathedral. "More than 10,000 migrants are now in the city and most of them are sleeping in the streets." 

People are frustrated, angry, and confused, she said.

Several men in the plaza outside the Cathedral told Alfonsi that they've been waiting for weeks to get an appointment to enter the U.S. through the app, but there aren't enough slots. 

"All people see, one opportunity at 9 o'clock. Five minutes. No more," one man said. "Try again the next day."

Sharyn Alfonsi talks to men about immigration issues in Juarez, Mexico. 60 Minutes

As difficult as the situation is right now, Secretary Mayorkas is about to face what could be another defining moment for the country. On May 11, the pandemic-era Title 42 public health policy expires. Since Title 42 was invoked by the Trump administration at the start of the pandemic, it has allowed U.S. officials at the southwestern border to expel illegal border crossers over 2.6 million times. The migrants were sent to Mexico or their home country, without being allowed to seek asylum in the U.S., federal data show.

Without some new arrangement, the expiration of the order would mean that the only people illegally crossing the border that the U.S. could expel to Mexico would be Mexicans, even as thousands of migrants from around the world continue to arrive at the U.S. southern border every day.

American officials are having ongoing discussions with Mexico about how they'll handle the increase in people seeking to migrate, Secretary Mayorkas said. He added that there are contingencies if Mexico won't agree to accept other nationals.

"It is going to be complicated. It is going to be expensive," Secretary Mayorkas said. "This has been complicated, expensive, and challenging for decades."

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