U.S.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: It's Time To Confront The Major Factor Fueling Global Migration—Climate Change

New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter on Tuesday to highlight one of the driving factors behind global migration that, more often than not, goes ignored by those seeking to quell it: climate change.

"The far-right loves to drum up fear & resistance to immigrants," said Ocasio-Cortez, whose own Green New Deal proposal aims to address climate change and economic inequality. "But have you ever noticed they never talk about what's causing people to flee their homes in the first place? Perhaps that’s [because] they’d be forced to confront [one] major factor fueling global migration: Climate change." 

GettyImages-1129765438 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attends the 2019 SXSW Conference and Festival on March 10 in Austin, Texas. Ocasio-Cortez has hit out at immigration critics who do not acknowledge the role climate change plays in driving global migration. Gary Miller/FilmMagic/Getty

Ocasio-Cortez shared a video in her post created by the Leap, an organization founded by Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis.

"From wildfires in Alberta to hurricanes in Puerto Rico, climate change is one of the reasons many of us are forced to leave our homes in search of a safer place to live," the video states. 

"We keep hearing that migration is a crisis, and it is, for the people affected," it continues, then follows with the line Ocasio-Cortez paraphrased. "But did you ever notice that the same leaders denying climate change are the ones drumming up fear and hatred against migrants? Hatred with horrific consequences." 

The United Nations has identified Central America as one of the regions most vulnerable to extreme weather connected to climate change. A drought in Central America from 2014 to 2016 left millions in need of food aid. 

A large portion of the asylum seekers arriving at the U.S. border come from the so-called Northern Triangle of Central American countries—Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador—where drought has devastated food and economic security.

The World Food Programme (WFP) warned in September that poor harvests caused by drought in parts of Central America, including the Northern Triangle, could leave more than 2 million people hungry. Lower than average rainfall in June and July led to significant crop losses, particularly for smaller-scale maize and bean farmers in the so-called Dry Corridor, which runs across Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. As a result, farmers were left with not enough food to sell, meaning families were left with not enough food to eat.

“Climate-related disasters are clearly becoming more frequent and causing more damage,” Miguel Barreto, the WFP’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said at the time, in a statement provided to the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Projected temperature increases and rainfall shortages in the Dry Corridor are of particular concern."

While the Trump administration has been slow to address the relationship between climate change and global migration, the official Trump named this week as the new acting head of the Department of Homeland Security has spoken of the connection.

During a discussion in December of the push and pull factors for Central American asylum seekers coming to the U.S., Kevin McAleenan, in his role as Customs and Border Protection commissioner, noted that drought was driving migration.

"What we looked at over the last several years is really a changing demographic coming from Central America, not arriving from the big cities, but primarily, now, we're seeing from Guatemala and Honduras, folks from rural areas," said McAleenan, who became acting DHS secretary following the resignation of Kirstjen Nielsen

In particular, significant challenges with food security as a result of drought, McAleenan said, were "affecting the ability of families to provide for themselves." 

"These areas are facing significant challenges with food insecurity," he said, noting that the WFP and the International Organization for Migration "have all written very astute studies about drought, about the coffee price decline and how that's affecting the ability of families to provide for themselves."

"We're seeing that directly translate into who's arriving at our border. About 30 percent of the arrivals last year were from Guatemala and the vast majority of those arrivals were from the Western Highlands. We're also seeing the rural areas of Honduras coming into play here on the border with Guatemala, where they also were in that Dry Corridor that has faced drought and having challenges with food insecurity. So, really, the hunger concern has become a real prevalent push factor from our analysis and perspective," McAleenan said. 

McAleenan touted the Alliance for Prosperity Initiative launched in 2014 to help Northern Triangle countries improve security and economic opportunity in response to a surge in arrivals of unaccompanied minors presenting themselves at the U.S.-Mexico border. He said his colleagues at the U.S. Agency for International Development aimed to ensure that U.S. investments in Central American countries were targeted at reducing migration. 

"We're four years into supporting the Alliance for Prosperity with investment in Central America—over $2 billion set aside by Congress. A lot of that is in the process of being deployed," McAleenan said. 

Trump, however, has made repeated threats to cut aid to the Northern Triangle, with the State Department recently announcing plans to follow through with the president's threats by ending fiscal year 2017 and 2018 foreign assistance programs for the three countries, though it is still unclear when that will happen, if at all.

The Congressional Safe Climate Caucus has warned that if the Trump administration "continues to cut both foreign aid and climate change initiatives…climate migration will only get worse." 

Immigration and environmental advocacy groups, including the Leap, have been working to raise awareness about the relationship between climate change and global migration.

The Leap's video, shared by Ocasio-Cortez, goes on to state that immigration is beneficial to the economies of prosperous nations and that combating climate change will create jobs. Both the fear of immigration and the opposition to combating climate change, it argues, are linked to racism.  

"More and more people in the climate movement are connecting the dots. To win climate justice, we need to oppose racism," the video states. "We know the world's wealthiest countries have burned most of the carbon that is driving climate change today. Asserting the rights of migrants affected by these storms, floods and fires is a way of paying back our climate debts and refusing to be divided." 

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