Most migration to the US in the past reflected economic “pull” factors. Most migrants have been Mexican men looking for seasonal agricultural work. But “push” factors have become stronger over the last 10 years. We now see poverty, violence, and food insecurity pushing families and unaccompanied minors to leave Central America.
So how does climate change factor in? Climate change operates as a threat multiplier, exacerbating people’s vulnerabilities. If a flood or drought happens and you have no savings, you’ll become poor and food insecure.
Unfortunately, we have no refugee or asylee protocol for climate migrants, and that leaves migrants likely to be turned back or deported later.
The countries of the Northern Triangle — Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras — appear especially vulnerable. What about México? What responsibility does México have for the migrants passing through?
México also has climate vulnerabilities. But México also has a stronger economy that increases the Mexican government’s adaptive capacity.
Trump put responsibility on México for the Central American migrants. In issuing Title 42, or the “Stay in México” policy, he used the excuse that the migrants posed a public health threat. This opportunistic ploy to avoid US responsibility used fear of Covid to justify closing the border. Trump, a pandemic denier, was blaming migrants moving through México for Covid’s spread!
But, of course, México does not bear sole responsibility, in either of responsibility’s two aspects. First, who should pay for mitigation and adaptation in the poorer countries affected by the climate disaster high-emission countries are causing? The US emits 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The countries of the Northern Triangle emit just 0.1 percent. This question of financial burden came up big at COP 27.
The second question: Who should receive climate migrants? This question needs far more attention.