• U.S.
  • Immigration

Facing a ‘Humanitarian Crisis,’ Migrants at the U.S. Border Turn to Uber Eats, Nonprofits

4 minute read

Hundreds of people have arrived at the southern U.S. border in the hopes of seeking asylum following the end of Title 42. Images of migrants using their limited funds to have food delivered through a fence have circulated online, as many stand in line for days in the hopes that their case will be heard.

Title 42, a pandemic-era health policy that allowed authorities to turn away asylum seekers at the border to prevent the contagion of COVID-19, ended on May 11. For these migrants, a new day marks another struggle to decide how to best use their limited funds and resources.

The asylum seekers, who have arrived from various countries including Guatemala, Colombia, and Honduras, are under border patrol custody and rely on U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents for basic needs—which nonprofit leaders serving the area say aren’t being met.

“We were told [border] patrol was only giving them one granola bar and one water bottle per day,” Fiona King, Director of Development at Interfaith Community Services, a local nonprofit based out of Escondido in San Diego County, tells TIME. She emphasized that “our government let them down by not caring for them.”

Read More: Migrants Struggle to Make Asylum Appointments Through U.S. Government App

In a report by Rest of World, at least 10 delivery drivers were seen handing off food along the border wall for services including UberEats. Those who do not have credit cards are relying on the cash they have. One migrant allegedly spent $100 on a whole chicken because their delivery driver had no change.

“We’re in need of everything,” one migrant told Rest of World. “Food, water, something to protect us from the heat and from the cold. It’s all stuff we want to buy, but we can’t afford for someone to be bringing us all that.”

Civil rights leaders such as Shane Harris, the President and Founder of The People’s Association of Justice Advocates, call that the situation at the border a “disaster” and a “humanitarian crisis.”

“If migrants are in the United States border patrol’s custody, then there is a dignity and a care that needs to happen,” Harris tells TIME. Instead, nonprofit organizations are stepping up to provide diapers, blankets, clothing, medicine, sleeping bags and more to those that are in the area.

Both leaders tell TIME that while migrants remain hopeful about their future, their current circumstances reflect a need for more care and attention from authorities. King, who recently visited the border, says that the migrants seemed exhausted as many of them had been traveling for days and were essentially living outside as they waited.

Interfaith Community Services, in partnership with other local organizations, has also stepped up by offering sandwiches to migrants through the six-inch crevices in the walls and setting up phone-charging stations for migrants.

Read More: Immigrants Are Key to Fighting Off Authoritarianism

New policies by the federal government require all asylum seekers to use CBP One, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection phone app, to apply for appointments for their case to be heard. The app has been riddled with problems, including limited language services, insufficient appointment slots, and a flawed facial recognition technology that struggles to identify Black migrants. It also creates an overwhelming reliance on Internet services, which can prove to be costly for migrants.

“The only thing [migrants] have are the clothes on their back and their phones. And the phones are critical because it’s the only way they can be in touch with [family]… and as we’ve been told, applying for an appointment for asylum through a phone application,” King says.

Migrant Crossings At Southern Border Increase As Title 42 Policy Expires
Immigrants stuck in a makeshift camp between the U.S. and Mexico look through the border wall as volunteers offer assistance on the other side on May 13, 2023 in San Diego, California.Mario Tama—Getty Images

Many of the migrants have families and sponsors in the U.S. and are waiting for appointment slots to open up so they can access the life waiting for them on the other side, according to King. Diego, a 34-year-old Venezuelan who has been living in Mexico for three months hoping to be granted asylum, told TIME he feels stuck because issues with the CBP One app are preventing him from moving forward.

“I just feel terrible all the time, like I’m being held hostage in Mexico,” Diego says. “I’m even more frustrated because I’m someone who likes to work, and I can’t work here.”

—With reporting by Vera Bergengruen

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com