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Glitches in the Digitization of Asylum
Read my latest academic article—not paywalled!—which examines the consequences of CBP One for asylum seekers at the southern border.
As readers of this publication know, I have developed an abiding interest in the intersection of migration and technology over the past two years, particularly the relationship between bordering, surveillance, and immigrant exclusion.
This is why I’m excited to share with you my first academic article based on this research, which was just published this morning in the open access journal Societies and titled “Glitches in the Digitization of Asylum: How CBP One Turns Migrants’ Smartphones into Mobile Borders.“
Please allow me to gush for a moment, because I owe each of you who receive this newsletter a big “thank you”.
In a way, this article is a testament to how public scholarship can work effectively. You were the first to read my real-time exploration and analysis of the growth of alternatives to detention technology and CBP One, as well as the recent explosion of “dataveillance” and data brokering technologies.
Your attention (which I never take for granted), comments (both private and public), and subscriptions (approaching 2,500!) have been a source of inspiration and have encouraged me to refine my thinking over time. I believe that scholarship works best when it is engaged in an ongoing dialogue with people across and beyond the academy. Thank you enormously, and please stay engaged!
Now back to CBP One.
My concerns about CBP One can be illustrated in my previous post (linked below), which examined how CBP One was switched off for asylum seekers as a result of them being targeted for extortion in part due to CBP One.
Although I remain open-minded about the benefits of CBP One, I have concerns that the digitization of asylum processing without a corresponding commitment to migrant safety will create as many problems as it claims to solve. The last section of my previous post raises three specific concerns that I believe is worth your time to read.
My article in Societies is somewhat preliminary in that it might be the first peer reviewed article on the app, and therefore focuses on the early months of CBP One when the app was at its “buggiest” and before changes were made to how appointments were allocated. I posted a longer list of images of CBP One acting glitchy on Instagram here.
Nonetheless, the article elaborates what I hope is a useful (although brief) analysis of its evolution as well as a critique of the ways in which the Silicon Valley style experimentality (captured in Facebook’s old slogan “move fast, break things”) exposed migrants to new digital barriers to asylum.
I argue that rather than dismissing these glitches merely as technical problems to be fixed (although they certainly are that, too), that CBP One’s glitches are symptoms of political decision to roll out untested technologies on vulnerable populations—hardly the first time in history we’ve seen that happen. You’ll get a lot more from the entire article if you read it, but that’s the gist.
Also, if you are doing research on CBP One, I believe my article is pretty thoroughly cited, so the bibliography should be a good resource for references to news articles and NGO reports up through early June 2023. If I am missing anything, please (please!) link to it in the comments below so I can add it to my library.
My article is part of a larger special issue for Societies on “Society and Immigration: Reducing Inequalities” edited by Ernesto Castañeda and Maria de Jesus, both of whom are at American University in Washington, D.C. I would encourage you to check out the other articles in the special issue which are available at the special issue homepage here.
By the way, Ernesto is also the director of the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies and the founder of the Immigration Lab, which I recently joined as a research fellow this spring (see my announcement here).
One last time: thank you for your support over the past two years.
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Thank you for reading. If you would like to support public scholarship and receive this newsletter in your inbox, click below to subscribe for free. And if you find this information useful, consider sharing it online or with friends and colleagues. I maintain a barebones site at austinkocher.com and I share immigration data, news, and research on Mastodon (@austinkocher), Twitter (@ackocher), and Instagram (@austinkocher). You can see my scholarly work on Google Scholar here.