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Glitches in the Digitization of Asylum: How CBP One Turns Migrants’ Smartphones into Mobile Borders

June 20, 2023 (1 min read)

Austin Kocher, Ph.D., June 20, 2023

"As the emerging literature on migration studies has demonstrated, migrants who are seeking asylum around the world are increasingly finding that the process is mediated by a variety of new technologies. While the process of digitizing various aspects of migrant protection may promise improvements, new technologies also risk limiting access to asylum for migrants who are unable to overcome these new digital barriers to entry. This article explores the digitization of asylum by examining the context and consequences of the U.S. government’s deployment of a smartphone app called CBP One in early 2023 which suddenly became one of the main pathways for migrants to seek asylum along the U.S.–Mexico border. In doing so, this article makes two contributions to the literature on the digitization of asylum. First, the article shows how CBP One, which was not initially designed for asylum seekers, morphed into a tool that took center stage in border enforcement statecraft during a period of exceptional migration policies. Second, this article examines the range of what have been referred to as “glitches” with CBP One, to demonstrate how the app created new digital barriers to asylum. Rather than accepting glitches as mere accidents, this article argues that these glitches are the result of a political decision to force already vulnerable migrants to rely upon experimental technologies that hinder rather than facilitate their asylum-seeking process."