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WASHINGTON – A cross section of refugee and climate organizations say President Joe Biden can help address refugees driven from their homelands by climate change-related factors by using a number of actions at his disposal.
The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) released a report on the actions Biden can make on his own without congressional approval to address climate change displacement. Several key climate and refugee organizations have endorsed the report, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), University Network for Human Rights; Mayors Migration Council; Truman National Security Project; Amnesty International; and Welcoming America.
“Climate displacement is a huge global challenge,” said Ama Francis, climate displacement project strategist at IRAP. “There are concrete things that the U.S. government can do and there are existing laws that the U.S. can build upon to make sure that all climate displaced people have a safe place to live."
The IRAP report comes as the Biden administration is preparing to release its own report on climate displacement.
The IRAP report calls on the Justice Department to issue an opinion that clarifies that climate change serves as grounds for refugee status under U.S. law. In addition, the report calls on the Biden administration to issue policy guidance for immigration officers and judges on assessing climate-related claims.
The Biden administration should also adopt temporary protected status (TPS) for countries whose citizens are seeing the effects of climate change, such as Guatemala, the report said. The United States awards TPS to people from eligible countries who are facing political conflict or natural disasters and allows people from those eligible countries to live and work in the U.S.
There has been a dramatic increase of migrant children, families and adults coming to the U.S.-Mexico border this year. U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered a yearly high of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in June, with 188,829 migrants encountered.
Biden and his administration have been criticized for the surge in numbers as well as their handling of the migrants once they arrive. The administration has had to build facilities to house some vulnerable migrants and has started flying some migrants back to their home countries.
The majority of migrants coming to the United States are from countries like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Central America late last year was ravaged by back-to-back hurricanes, followed by a drought. Migrants have left home because of climate change, the coronavirus pandemic, gang violence, economic hardships and political instability.
Francis, of IRAP, said climate displacement is oftentimes seen with other factors that could be grounds for asylum, such as race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.
Francis noted that at times when migrants are seeking asylum in the U.S. they might tell officials that they left because of a hurricane or other climate disasters, which means they wouldn’t qualify for asylum. Francis said officials need to be trained to ask follow-up questions that would reveal that the people seeking asylum could have lost all their crops or land or are part of an ethnic minority in their home country.
“It's really important that we're training asylum officers and immigration judges to understand how climate is showing up in interaction with other elements of an asylum claim so that we're not leaving anyone behind,” Francis said.
Francis said people from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua are being displaced because of climate change. Francis added that people from Caribbean islands are also vulnerable to being displaced a climate disaster because “it's easy for a single environmental event to completely overwhelm the capacity of the government to respond to the disaster.” In addition, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa will likely be affected by climate displacement, Francis said.
Hurricanes, earthquakes and droughts have caused migrants to be displaced in some of these countries.
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In February, Biden issued an executive order that requires U.S. agencies to prepare a report on climate displacements by August 2021. In Biden’s executive order, the agencies’ reports would focus on protection and resettlement, international security, foreign assistance and multilateral engagement.
Over the past several months, the United States has been working to address the root causes of migration from countries in the Northern Triangle region, which includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Vice President Kamala Harris, who is taking the lead on addressing those root causes, announced in May that private-sector businesses were going to invest in those countries, including addressing the effects of climate change and food shortages.
The Biden administration has turned away the majority of migrants coming to the border under a policy called Title 42, which allows border officials to expel undocumented migrants to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in holding facilities. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security reinstated a policy that allows immigration authorities to remove migrant families without a hearing. The first flights deporting certain families began Friday.
Reach Rebecca Morin at Twitter @RebeccaMorin_
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden administration can address climate displacement, report says