Climate migration is here. Is Biden ready?


It was a grim validation of President Biden’s assessment of a warmer planet: thousands pushed to the US border by Haiti’s political violence, environmental degradation and natural disasters.

It was the kind of climate-fueled migration that Biden had predicted for years. His administration began reassessing climate migrant aid systems in February, promising to lift President Trump’s blanket restrictions and update refugee policy for a warming world.

But that has yet to happen, advocates say, pointing to the treatment of Haitians near Del Rio, Texas, as an illustration of how little has changed for people fleeing climate impacts.

“The footage we saw absolutely reflected an approach to the border that existed before the Trump administration, which worsened during the Trump administration and which the Biden administration has not broken with,” Clara Long said. , associate director of Human Rights. To concern.

The administration returned most Haitians to Mexico or – using a Trump-era interpretation of a public health law, Title 42 – deported them to Haiti, where a presidential assassination, earthquake and violent storms have pushed society to its limits. US special envoy to Haiti Daniel Foote resigned last week to protest what he called Biden’s “inhumane” actions.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the photos of migrants being chased by border patrol officers on horseback were “gruesome”. But the overall US response, he argued, has been characterized by humanitarian assistance. And he underscored the administration’s long-term goals of reforming immigration laws, tackling the root causes of migration, and rebuilding the capacities of refugees.

“It takes time and we are executing our plans,” Mayorkas said last week.

Biden lacks several Senate-confirmed officials who would implement his border policy, and some of the changes he’s considering – like adding more immigration judges – are taking longer than the public realizes, said Erol Yayboke, director of the fragility and mobility project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But, he added, “there is a kind of statute of limitations for this patience. And I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think we’re getting close to that point.

Others saw Del Rio as an example of the tension between Biden’s immigration and climate policies.

Biden wants to prepare the United States for more climate-fueled migration by expanding programs for migrants and refugees. But it also continues the three-decade trend of militarizing the southern border, observers say. Biden has offered to fund customs and border protection at $ 16.3 billion for this fiscal year, almost triple CBP’s budget compared to fiscal 2003.

The fundamental objectives of Biden’s border policy remain national security and the deterrence of illegal immigration, said Fernando García, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights.

“What we have at the border are cages, prisons, detention centers and military bases,” he said. “We have no other approach. We treat refugees as a potential threat to the United States.

García said his group warned Team Biden during the transition that they needed a plan for immediate changes.

“What we have seen in the past is that there is no border strategy, there are only reactions. So as soon as something happens, it’s a “crisis”. We’ve had about six, seven crises in the last decade. It’s ridiculous, ”he said.

“The Haitian crisis will diminish,” García said. “But then we’ll have another one, and there’s no long-term strategy.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Biden said he began to view the climate as America’s main threat after hearing it from Pentagon officials. In a June speech, he recounted the military’s warnings as early as 2009.

“There will be major population movements, fighting for land, millions of people leaving because they are literally sinking under the sea… because of the fighting for arable land,” Biden said.

This focus on security means Biden is focused on minimizing threats, even when it comes to climate migrants, said Hossein Ayazi, a policy analyst at the Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California at Berkeley.

“All of these efforts to center the climate crisis in domestic and foreign policy, all are framed in the language of national security,” said Ayazi, who works with the institute’s global justice program.

This will become an even bigger problem as climate impacts displace more and more people, he said. “It’s a sign of things to come,” Ayazi said.

Rising temperatures are expected to trigger the mass movement of people this century as food, security and jobs become more volatile. Earlier this month, the World Bank estimated that climate change could displace 216 million people in their country by 2050. People in the Global South are particularly vulnerable as much of their economic activity depends on agriculture, forestry or the ocean.

‘Training effect’

This is especially true for Haiti, the only country in the world founded by a successful slave revolution.

Haiti ranks as the most climate-vulnerable country in the Caribbean, according to the United Nations. It is exposed to storms and cyclones, which can make landslides more likely in the earthquake-prone country.

Haiti “faces almost all types of possible environmental alterations that can frequently have an impact on migratory flows”, according to the United Nations Portal on Environmental Migration.

In this way, Haiti’s political and economic turmoil is downstream from its climate vulnerability, said Patrice Lawrence, executive director of the advocacy group UndocuBlack Network.

“It’s all linked, because even the reason for instability is linked to climate change,” Lawrence said. “Your life literally depends on the sustenance of the earth, and when that is taken away from you, it is a ripple effect that is broad and broad.”

This same vulnerability leaves Haitians without the resources to navigate the US immigration and refugee system, she added. Poor and black migrants face a different system than richer migrants who can fly to the United States or obtain student visas.

Biden has a range of asylum and humanitarian powers that he could exercise on behalf of Haitians, Lawrence said.

“There are several tools in the Biden-Harris toolbox. The executive has several tools. … And they choose not to use them. And that’s what fundamentally frustrates me, ”she said.

The Biden administration has focused on addressing the root causes of migration, including climate impacts, such as drought or storms. He rolled back some of Trump’s most prominent deterrence tactics, such as family separation. The administration published a plan this summer for a “just, orderly and humane” immigration system that called for building climate resilience.

But even within this framework, the administration is orienting its policies around deterrence, Long said of Human Rights Watch.

“It’s basically the idea that if you can punish people enough, the migration will stop,” she said. “It doesn’t actually prevent migration, it just makes it more deadly.”

Climate change itself promises to make migration more dangerous as temperatures rise along the southern border. The Natural Resources Defense Council, Human Rights Watch, and dozens of other groups sent a letter to Biden this month, warning that America’s deterrence policy puts migrants at risk.

The United States has an important role to play in helping people adjust to where they already live, Long said. But migration is also a vital adaptation strategy, and the United States should not shut it down.

“You have to make border crossing more secure and dignified, which means you have to create more legal means of crossing borders,” Long said. “And this is where we don’t see enough action, fast enough, from the Biden administration and, frankly, high-emission countries around the world.”

Biden signed an executive order in February to help climate migrants. He instructed agencies to compile reports on how to align US refugee policy with the new challenges of climate change.

Experts say refugee laws are ill-suited to people displaced by climate change. For example, refugee status depends on victims’ identification of a government or ethnic group that persecutes them, which is virtually impossible for people displaced by climate change, said Ayazi of Berkeley.

Refugee groups applauded Biden’s order as revolutionary.

But this feeling soured after defenders found that the Biden administration had expelled more Haitians in its first few weeks than Trump had expelled for a full year.

“We already have the impression that [Biden] is not much different from what we’ve seen under Trump, ”Ayazi said.


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