Crossings will increase if the Covid-related U.S.–Mexico border closing to migrants is not completed as planned Monday. Therefore, activists are calling for a new pathway for people who have been impacted by climate catastrophes.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has called climate change a “threat multiplier” that puts compounding pressure on people to move within or outside country borders, and the activists are calling on the Biden administration and Congress to recognize this growing reality by supporting legislation and other efforts to expand legal pathways for climate-displaced people to migrate into the U.S.
People affected by climate change may apply for asylum in the U.S. if they can demonstrate that they were subject to persecution in their home country.
“The ideal solution is a complementary system of protection in addition to refugee and asylum law enacted through Congress that would guarantee a path to citizenship for people impacted by climate disasters,” said Julia Neusner, associate attorney of refugee protection at Human Rights First, a non-profit policy center based in New York City and Washington.
She points out, however, that Congress is slow in moving legislation to expand refugee protections for people affected by climate change.
In the absence of legislation, 75 immigration policy experts asked the Biden Administration last year to use its executive authority “to offer aid and protection to those fleeing the effects of climate change worldwide” by granting “parole” to otherwise ineligible migrants and allowing them to remain in the country legally on humanitarian grounds.
“It is getting to the point where, around the world, we see the climate change impacts overriding a lot of people’s ability to adapt, whether it’s because they don’t have access to what they need, or because things are so severe that there really are not solutions to the challenges they’re facing,” said Rebecca Carter, the acting director of climate resilience practice at the World Resources Institute, a global research non-profit based in Washington.
The border crisis isn’t new. Since years, Central Americans, Haitians and Mexicans have made their way to the U.S. border involuntarily and involuntarily. Covid-19 has exacerbated the need to move. But research shows that the conditions motivating migration to the U.S. are deepening from the impacts of climate change in migrants’ home countries, inevitably resulting in growing displacement across international borders.
Since the U.S. closed its land ports of entry to almost all migrants more than two years ago, the country’s backlog of pending immigration cases grew to its largest size in history. Title 42, which allows the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in certain circumstances to prevent non-residents entering the U.S., has been used to expel more than 1.7million people without due process.
After the CDC announced that Title 42 would be lifted on Monday in April, the Biden administration was challenged by supporters of the order who claim that lifting it will result in an influx illegal immigration.
As they continue to deal with the aftermath of the pandemic, as well as the inability as mayors to provide shelter for the many asylum seekers expected to settle on the U.S. border, they expressed concern about the safety and health risks posed by a surge of migrants.
The Department of Homeland Security is ready to receive upwards of 18,000 migrants per day, even though Title 42 is not in place.
Trump’s 2020 public health order was enacted to reduce the spread and spread of Covid-19. Some CDC officials resisted, citing no scientific basis. The order prompted human rights advocates to argue that it was used as an excuse to limit immigration and that the halt in immigration doesn’t align with the increasing reality of climate change, which has only exacerbated the forces driving people to seek asylum.
The CDC announced a lifting of the order, citing that it was no more necessary to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. In an effort to preserve the rule, more than 20 Republican-led countries filed lawsuits in federal court after the announcement. Although it is not known when the judge will issue a decision, it is expected that it will be before May 23.
The number of people who attempted to immigrate to the U.S. declined at the beginning of the pandemic but has steadily increased since. They reached a record at the U.S./Mexico border last year. Most of the migrants came mostly from Mexico and the Northern Triangle nations of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Many migrants trying to cross the border illegally attempt to trek through the increasingly hot desert southwestern of Mexico. The border crossing between the United States and Mexico was the most deadly since 2014.
Thousands of Central American and Haitian migrants are waiting on the Mexican side of border in makeshift camps and refuges. Some of them have waited for more than two decades. While they wait, some have been subject to violence and discrimination in Mexico.
Who are Climate Migrants?
The term “climate refugee” refers to those displaced by climate change but isn’t recognized in international law. The U.N. Refugee Agency refers to them as “persons displaced in the context of disasters and climate change,” and the International Organization on Migration defines them as “environmental migrants” or “environmentally displaced people.”
Their numbers are increasing and are large. An IPCC report published earlier this year estimated that more than 3.3 million people live in areas extremely vulnerable to climate hazards. According to a 2020 report published by the New York Times Magazine, over 30 million migrants would be headed toward the U.S. Border in extreme climates. East and Southeast Asia are experiencing more tropical cyclones. The Pacific Islands are rapidly being submerged by sea level rises. In Central America, frequent, intensifying hurricanes are threatening. Every year, 21.5 million people move because of sudden weather hazards.
Rep. Nydia Valazquez (D.N.Y.) & Sen. Edward Markey, (D.Mass.) Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Edward Markey, (D.Mass.) reintroduced last year a bill aimed at addressing climate driven displacement and supporting people displaced because of global warming.
“Women, children, Indigenous people, and people of color are the most likely to be affected by climate migration, making them even more vulnerable to conflict, violence, and persecution,” said Sen. Markey in a statement introducing the proposed bill for the first time in 2019. “The United States needs a global strategy for resilience and a plan to deal with migration driven by climate change. We cannot allow climate-displaced persons to fall through the cracks in our system of humanitarian protections simply because they do not meet the definition of refugee.”
According to Carrie Rosenbaum (an immigration law professor at the University of California Berkeley), the bill has been in committee since April. It is unlikely that it will be passed anytime soon. The immigration crisis is treated as a national security problem and not a humanitarian one, and both Republicans and moderate Democrats “don’t want more immigration, period,” said Rosenbaum, one of the immigration attorneys who signed the letter to the Biden administration last year.
Elizabeth Keyes, the director of the University of Baltimore’s Immigrant Rights Clinic, said that while the proposed legislation known as the Climate Displaced Persons Act is a worthy pursuit, the challenge will be that migrants don’t fit neatly into definitions of a climate displaced person.
It can be difficult to determine who fits this definition. Research shows that peoples’ decisions to migrate aren’t sudden, said Robert McLeman, a professor of environmental studies and geography at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, noting that they often come after years of slow-onset disasters.
Most people don’t want to move. McLeman, who co-authored an IPCC report in March on climate change impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability, stated that even if they are forced to move, they will usually return to their homes.
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates that 23.7 million of the 38,000,000 displacements within countries borders last year resulted in climate disasters. These include extreme temperatures, storms and cyclones, hurricanes, wildfires, and extreme weather. The centre also noted that not all environmental events in these categories were due to climate change. According to a report from the World Bank, more than 216 million people worldwide will move within their borders for climate-related reasons by midcentury.
Researchers said that migrants only consider migrating abroad after they have tried to adapt. According to the Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organization based out of Washington, D.C., the only case where climate change is the sole reason for migration into other countries is when the Pacific Islands are being submerged by sea level rise.
Hein de Haas is a Dutch sociolog and one of the founders of the International Migration Institute at Oxford. He said that there is no direct link between climate change and mobility. The poorest populations in the poorest countries are less likely to move than those who are slightly better off, and climate and weather are not the only factors that determine people’s decision to migrate, he told the EUobserver.
Carter of the World Resources Institute stated that climate change is not the only factor that causes migration. Data shows that the impacts of climate change “can be a real push for people” and can lead to greater instability and violence, she said.
For example, extreme weather conditions have led to a chain reaction of migration pressures in Honduras. Farmers in Honduras that are part of Central America’s dry corridor are battling droughts that have disastrous impacts on cultivation, Inside Climate News reported. This causes a decrease in food supply, which leads to instability and conflict within the country as well as in the surrounding countries.
Keyes was one of the 75 experts that signed the letter. She said she also sees the relationship between climate change, instability, and violence in Central America. This is where most of her clients are located. As resources and arable soil in the region decrease due to droughts, hurricanes and other extreme weather events, Keyes said that she believes climate change is a contributing factor to violence and instability in Central America. Three or four years ago, she began seeing more cases involving climate issues.
“It’s not that people are not coming to me saying I’m affected by climate, but when you dig around the context, climate is driving a lot of either general violence or specific land disputes, so land-related asylum claims are becoming much more common,” said Keyes.
According to Neusner, Human Rights First, organized crime is a major driver of migration in the region. Farmers who are forced into giving a portion to violent gangs may find themselves in dangerous situations. For example, droughts and floods can decimate their farms. This is happening more often and more frequently as a result climate change. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICCR), 60 percent of the world’s most climate-vulnerable nations are also affected or afflicted by armed conflict and violence from organized crime.
“Because organized crime controls so much of many people’s lives, especially in the northern triangle and in Mexico, there are many people whose persecution has been made a lot worse by climate disasters,” said Neusner.
Keyes stated that the U.S. could allow more countries to apply to Temporary Protective status, which allows citizens of certain countries that have been ravaged by natural disasters or armed conflict to legally remain in the U.S.A. until they are deemed safe to return home.
Keyes explained that while temporary protective status may be helpful, it is not an answer to the larger problem of climate displaced migrants not being allowed to seek long term protection in the U.S. in safe and fair ways. Temporary Protective Status doesn’t provide a path for permanent residency or citizenship, she said, and is only available to people already in the U.S. Following Hurricane Mitch, which claimed more than 8,600 lives, the U.S. declared Hondurans as eligible for Temporary Protection Status in 1998.
Biden has expanded temporary coverage since he was elected, and there have been legislative attempts for permanent residency and citizenship to TPS holder, but they have so far been unsuccessful.
The 75 immigration experts who wrote to Biden last year also called for an expansion of Temporary Protective Status and a process called Deferred Enforced Departure in which “climate-displaced persons” would not be subject to removal from the U.S. for a specific period of time. But the experts also noted the temporary nature of Biden’s executive powers under current law.
“Because the U.S. refugee system was not necessarily designed to receive climate-displaced persons, existing U.S. refugee mechanisms do not adequately meet their needs,” the experts wrote. “In the United States, current executive powers lend themselves only to temporary solutions. These temporary solutions can help meet urgent immediate need for protection, but we emphasize that climate-displaced persons need statutory protection that recognizes the long-term nature of their displacement.”
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The National Security Council published an October report that acknowledged the connection between climate change, migration, and two executive orders issued by President Biden to address climate crisis impacts in the U.S.A and abroad. They also highlighted the importance to support efforts that allow people to remain as safe in their home countries as possible.
The report discusses the need for funding resilience and adaptation projects in countries most at risk from the effects of climate change. These countries are also responsible for the lowest greenhouse gas emissions and the most adverse effects of climate change.
The 75 experts addressed Biden with a clear focus on what the U.S. should do for climate migrants and not adaptation or mitigation efforts in their home countries. They urged the Biden administration not to give climate migrants the highest priority in the asylum process. They also recommended that the U.N. revise their resettlement criteria to give climate migrants a higher priority.
“These measures would not only signal to other nations that the United States stands ready to do its part in the fight against climate change,” they wrote, “but they would also improve our relationships with nations disproportionately affected by climate change and related disasters.”
Source: Inside Climate News