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Climate Change Driving Immigration

Comments in a report in the Daily Beast today entitled Climate Change Sparked the Border Migration Crisis, address immigrants seeking entry to the United States, which has been headlining the news lately. Much of the coverage has focussed on the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy that led to the separation of more than 2000 children from their parents. Little attention has been paid to the immigrants themselves. Who are they? Where are they coming from? Why? This article addresses those questions. They come mostly from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, the so-called Northern Triangle of Central American countries immediately to the south of Mexico. The entire area has been under increasing climatic stress for a decade. The stable conditions of sun and rain needed for subsistence agriculture have broken down, in part because of the natural cycles of El Niño and La Niña, and in part due to climate change which has strengthened both cycles, fed longer, harsher droughts and fiercer, flood-causing rains. Combined, the food insecurity experienced by peasant farmers forces them to migrate to the cities, where jobs are few and gang violence often endemic, at least in Honduras and El Salvador. Families often move first to another city, then a neighboring country, then to the US. This multi-stage movement reflects a growing level of desperation as their food insecurity increases. The largely unrecognized and unacknowledged driver is climate change. Viable solutions lie not in changing a crop or a farming practice, but in part by bolstering the remittances from abroad that sustain many families. Beyond that partial measure, conomic development is needed to alleviate the pressure on food security, but would require considerable bilateral aid and foreign investment. There is little chance of halting the disruptive impacts of climate change. The US could help first by curbing its own contributions to the climate change that underlies the immigrant push, and also by calling these immigrants by their true name — climate refugees, and by providing much of the aid and investment needed to improve the local economies of the Northern Triangle. If we can promise to transform the North Korean economy, surely we can relieve some of the food insecurity in our Central American neighbors.

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