Crisis on Southern Border Underscores Urgent Need to Rebuild U.S. Immigration & Asylum System

Interview with Nancy Treviño, associate director for Network Power with Alianza Americas, conducted by Scott Harris

Amid the exponential rise in the number of migrants seeking asylum at the U.S. southern border in recent months, in early January the Biden administration announced new immigration policies that limit asylum claims and expand the use of the Trump-era COVID ban, known as Title 42 while also increasing the ways some migrants can apply for asylum in the U.S. without making the journey north.

On Dec. 27, 2022, the Supreme Court allowed U.S. border officials to continue expelling migrants under Title 42, while considering a petition by 19 Republican-led states to prevent President Biden from immediately ending the policy.  Title 42 is now being used to expel 30,000 migrants from Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua each month, while allowing the same number of asylum-seekers from those countries to apply to live and work in the U.S. for two years.

Those accepted through the application process must have U.S.-based sponsors to support them, much as Venezuelans and Ukrainians are required to have for a separate Biden program. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Nancy Treviño, associate director for Network Power with the national coalition Alianza Americas. Here, she examines the Biden administration’s immigration policies, while advocating for opening pathways for regular migration and asylum applications, and addressing the root causes of migration to the U.S.

NANCY TREVINO: Essentially, what we’re seeing is on the border is people coming seeking asylum due to various issues that are impacting their daily lives back home and then being forced to migrate, seeking better lives for them and for their families. People were severely impacted globally, but especially in Latin America, by the COVID 19 pandemic and other social issues that are occurring in their countries of origin.

People are facing poverty. People are facing the impacts of COVID 19, political instability and the climate crisis, which are forcing them to travel north. And essentially what we’re seeing at the border, again, is people seeking a better life and asking for asylum into the United States.

When the administration came in, they did discuss something that we as a network and as an organization that’s nearly 20 years old, has been talking about constantly, right — and that is to get to the root causes of migration. The administration tried to get some conversations going, including a visit by Vice President Harris to Central America to try to come up with a plan and really get to addressing this. The congressional solution that we have been advocating for legislatively has just really gone nowhere in the last couple of years.

So there’s gridlock in Congress. The executive is trying their best to try to navigate this landscape of just inefficiency and a lack of what we see building just something different and reimagining something different that will not only provide protections for undocumented people, millions of them here in the United States, who contribute to our country every single day, but also address those who are coming seeking better lives.

SCOTT HARRIS: I did want to ask you, Nancy, a bit about Title 42, because it seems that while the Biden administration has long been saying that it wants to get rid of Title 42, they also have been expanding the use of this policy and they seem to only half-heartily been trying to repeal its use. What’s your perspective on Title 42 and where it’s at right now?

NANCY TREVINO: For us, it’s ineffective. It should have never been used. I think at this point there’s just lots of data to make the point that we no longer need this policy in place to deter migrants from coming into the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The vaccines are available. The administration has proven that it can quickly create systems to integrate new migrants into the country, including Ukrainians who came to our borders and were given parole and given protections immediately.

So in our perspective, it’s ineffective and the administration should just discontinue using some elements of the policy to deter people from coming to the country.

SCOTT HARRIS: What are the international obligations of the United States in terms of their treatment and processing of people who come to our border seeking asylum? We are signatories to some international treaties, are we not?

NANCY TREVINO: Yes, we are. And it’s international law that basically guarantees people who come seeking asylum to a fair process. Right? And a process that allows them to make their case and have some type of legal representation or assistance to apply for asylum in the country.

So the fact that all of these policies were implemented prior to the Biden administration were essentially deterring the asylum process just proves that what we’re seeing is ineffective and that the Biden administration just really needs to problem-solve and implement better policy and continue to instead support people who are coming here seeking a better life as opposed to continuing to restrict asylum, essentially.

SCOTT HARRIS: For decades, Congress has failed to make any changes to immigration law. Is there any chance in your mind that this new divided Congress, certainly with the House in the hands of the Republicans and the Senate in the hands of Democrats, can there be any progress, you think, over the next couple of years?

NANCY TREVINO: From our perspective, we don’t think so. You know, we will keep advocating. We will keep organizing if any new proposals come up that will provide protections for undocumented people. We are surely to support that.

But we do think that part of the organizing and advocacy has to happen at the local and state level as well. So we’ll be driving this fight through our member organizations and we’ll do our best to continue pushing champions who have been supporting our network and other immigrant rights groups from across the country to get any legislation passed in the next couple of years.

Learn more about the urgent need for immigration reform in the U.S. by visiting Alianza Americas at

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Nancy Treviño (14:43) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

For the best listening experience and to never miss an episode, subscribe to Between The Lines on your favorite podcast app or platform: Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcherGoogle PodcastsAmazon MusicTunein + AlexaCastboxOvercastPodfriendiHeartRadioCastroPocket Casts,  RSS Feed.

Subscribe to our Weekly Summary