Utah lawmakers push bill to stop undocumented immigrants from boarding planes

Apr 19, 2024, 8:28 PM | Updated: 11:23 pm

two people shown with wraps over themselves as they use the cbp one app...

Venezuelan migrants, using a wrap and a towel, respectively, as protection from the rain, consult the CBPOne app, on the banks of the Rio Grande, in Matamoros, Mexico, Saturday, May 13, 2023. As the U.S. ended its pandemic-era immigration restrictions, migrants are adapting to new asylum rules and legal pathways meant to discourage illegal crossings. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

(AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, introduced a bill they hope will block undocumented immigrants from boarding commercial planes to the United States.

To do that, the bill would prevent airlines from accepting a smartphone app and certain immigration documents as valid identification. 

Those documents include two Immigration and Customs Enforcement forms and a smartphone app called CBP One. 

The CBP One app 

The app allows people immigrating to the U.S. to set up an appointment with customs before they land at a port of entry, according to the CBP One fact sheet. It services only “noncitizens located in Central and Northern Mexico” who plan to go through ports of entry in Texas, Arizona and California. 

People from any country can use the app as long as they are physically located in central and northern Mexico. 

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The Department of Homeland Security advertised the app in an August press release as “an example of how the U.S. Government has expanded access to lawful and orderly pathways and processes, even as it continues to apply strengthened consequences for unlawful and unauthorized entry.” 

The CBP One fact sheet said the app allows noncitizens “without appropriate documents for admission” to enter the U.S. through legal ports of entry. 

Owens calls it a “double standard” 

Owens helped introduce the Verifying that All Illegal Aliens Have Legitimate Documents Act, alongside Rep. Mark Green, R- Tenn. Called the VALID Act, the bill would shut down the app as a way to come to a port of entry. 

A news release from Owens’ office called the app an “outrageous double standard” that American citizens must show valid photo ID to TSA while many immigrants can rely on the app.  

KSL NewsRadio reached out to Owens’ office for further comment but has not yet received a response.  

Related: Mike Lee calls for full impeachment trial of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas

Lee introduced a companion bill in the Senate. 

He criticized the CBP One app on the Senate floor in March when he proposed an amendment to strike the app from the federal government’s spending plan. 

“If you’re an illegal immigrant under the Biden administration,” said Lee, “all you have to do is pull out the CBP One app. It’s an app that they created. It doesn’t prove who you are, it just says you can board the airplane.” 

KSL NewsRadio reached out to commercial airlines and the Transportation Security Administration to verify Lee’s claim. Neither responded. 

Lee’s office told KSL NewsRadio the federal government “has been using [this app] to parole illegal immigrants into the nation, with tragic results.” 

His office pointed to a New York Post story about an immigrant accused of double homicide who allegedly entered the U.S. through the app. 

Criticism from the other side 

On the other side of the aisle, some Democrats also take issue with CBP One. 

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., wrote in a March 2023 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that the app led to technical glitches and inequitable results. 

“U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP) releases a limited number of appointments each day. Successfully receiving an appointment is akin to winning the lottery for the thousands of migrants living in camps waiting to secure an interview slot.” 

Additionally, Booker criticized the app for only offering error alerts in English.  

Related: Senate dismisses two articles of impeachment against Homeland Security secretary, ending trial

At the end of March this year, Democratic Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva, Jesús “Chuy” García and Joaquin Castro criticized technical and language issues with the CBP One app. The representatives urged the DHS to fix several issues including “poor translations” and lack of language diversity. 

The app currently offers English, Spanish and Haitian Creole. 

Defense of CBP One

During the same March debate, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., argued that the app protects the country. 

“Using this app improves security,” said Murray, “because it provides CBP [Customs and Border Patrol] advance notice of who’s arriving, and those individuals have already passed security checks.” 

The DHS said the app had boosted CBP appointments by half, going up to about 1,400 per day. By August, there were 170,000 total appointments processed. 

Murray said there was a safety benefit for immigrants, too. 

“By providing people with advanced travel authorization,” said Murray, “it allows them to avoid human traffickers and drug cartels and other criminal organizations.” 

Related: Utah provides health insurance to immigrant children

She said there would be negative consequences if the bill passed. 

“Accepting this amendment will lead to more encounters at the border, pulling our agents from other work and responsibilities, like stopping drug cartels from getting fentanyl through our border. And it will create long lines at ports of entry as individuals travel to the border to apply for asylum.” 

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Utah lawmakers push bill to stop undocumented immigrants from boarding planes