Auto clickers are a common tool for people trying to beat digital queues, enlisting the inhumanly fast reflexes of a computer to snag a concert ticket, PlayStation 5, or any other limited item. But now, they’re becoming a tool for migrants trying to enter the U.S., helping them secure a precious slot that could ease the process — turning a previously innocuous tool into something with life-changing consequences.

Apps, like AutoClicker or Click Automático, are being used to gain quicker access to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s own app, CBP One. Fewer than a thousand slots for appointments with U.S. border officials appear every day at 6 a.m. Pacific time; they’re typically gone within two minutes. But auto clickers speed through the process, selecting slots, clicking on the right links, entering pre-filled information like names and birthdays into forms, and even uploading photos. All of this happens in milliseconds: a speed impossible for humans.

Fabiola Quintana, a locally-based officer of the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations agency, confirmed to Rest of World that auto clickers were being used in shelters across Mexico. “We know they are using them in [the northern Mexican state of] Chihuahua and it’s starting to spread in shelters in central Mexico,” said the U.N. official.

Migrants and human rights experts who spoke to Rest of World said CBP One can be frustrating to use. Migrants must create a profile with their name, date of birth, disabilities, and explain if and how they are in danger. They also need to give the exact address of where they will be living in the U.S., along with an emergency contact. All of this happens while the clock ticks and valuable appointment slots are rapidly being filled. Migrants told Rest of World that the CBP One app often glitches, sometimes restarting for seemingly no reason, making applying for entry into the U.S. a particularly nightmarish endeavor.

For many migrants, the use of an auto clicker does not necessarily ensure success. They may be using an outdated version of CBP One or they might find that the auto clicker only works when uploading the photos of two family members, but not the rest. One asylum seeker, who spoke to Rest of World on condition of anonymity for fear that recognition would affect his claim to entry, said the app didn’t allow him to add family members while using an auto clicker. “We only got two of the four slots we need to enter as a family,” he said. “We’re traveling with young children and we can’t just leave them behind.”

A 27-year-old Cuban woman, who also requested anonymity over concerns that recognition would affect her entry into the U.S., told Rest of World she’d been waiting on the Mexicali-Calexico border penniless with an infant for over a month. “I have to wake my 3-year-old baby at 2 a.m. every day to enter our information and try our chances with the app.” She said she had used the auto clicker to tap over and over on the photo she had to upload to get an appointment. “What I have noticed is that auto-clicker apps work mostly when there is only one person trying to get the appointment.”

Despite the physical and psychological toll this process takes on migrants, for many, legal entry into the U.S. requires the use of the CBP One app. They gather on dozens of Facebook groups like CBP ONE frontera de México or CBPOne Venezuela to warn each other about the app’s glitches and to share tips on how to use auto clickers. 

However, there are so few slots and so many migrants, that the advantage provided by the auto clickers could eventually be rendered useless. Then, those looking to enter the U.S. will have to migrate to a different solution.