There is a growing humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, in Reynosa, a small Mexican town directly across the border from McAllen, Texas.
Over the years, I have worked in some of the largest, harshest and most desolate refugee camps in the world, where hundreds of thousands of people are forced to live in appalling conditions without any humanitarian protection while they wait to apply for asylum in the neighbor countries. Today, the situation in the migrant camp in Reynosa, which is home to thousands of migrants waiting to apply for asylum in the United States, is no different.
Roughly 5,000 migrants currently live in a seedy makeshift camp located in Reynosa’s Plaza de la República, a park next to the walkway that connects the United States and Mexico. The camp, which lacks health and sanitation infrastructure, has experienced several COVID-19 outbreaks, but its residents still do not have access to health services or adequate tools to protect themselves from the virus. Reynosa’s only migrant shelter that has any infrastructure, Senda de Vida, 14, recently won a temporary court order to block a demolition order from the local government. This shelter, however, is already full and houses some 600 asylum seekers. So the newcomers have no choice but to take refuge in the seedy unofficial camp in the square.
Across the country, at El Chaparral camp in the city of Tijuana, just across the border from San Diego, California, another 2,000 migrants are trying to survive in similarly dire conditions.
I recently visited both camps to speak with Central Americans, Haitians, and other migrants residing there. They told me that they decided to seek safety in the United States because of the aggravating crises of violence, poverty, persecution and, increasingly, climate change in their home countries. After hearing their stories, I couldn’t help but recall once again a talking point that I have grown weary of repeating over the years: global governance has not kept pace with the dynamics of displacement and climate change.
In fact, the growing humanitarian crisis on the US-Mexico border was by no means inevitable. The United States itself has created, and is now perpetuating, this crisis by insisting on myopic and ineffective migration and environmental protection policies.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the US has been using a mysterious public health law known as Title 42, which gives the government the right to deny asylum and remove from the US. To people who have recently been to a country. where there was a communicable disease: expel migrants and stop processing asylum applications. So far, some 948,000 migrants have been deported without due process under this law, allegedly in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the United States. This, despite government scientists repeatedly saying that the policy has little public health benefit. In fact, COVID-19 is still prevalent in the US not because of migrants, but because of high levels of vaccinations among the population and the failure of the US government to implement effective mitigation policies. of the pandemic.
Title 42, unsurprisingly, did little to ease the burden of COVID-19 in the US Instead, it allowed US Customs and Border Protection agents to effectively bar all migrants from entering. to the US through its southern border. This led to the emergence of informal immigrant camps in Mexican border cities, such as Tijuana and Reynosa. These camps sprang up suddenly along the border because this deportation policy did nothing to recognize and address the many reasons, including climate change, that force desperate people to leave their home countries to try to find a better life. In the USA.
Last year’s twin hurricanes, Eta and Iota, along with successive droughts and the COVID-19 pandemic, devastated Central America and deepened existing poverty and food insecurity crises in the region. As a result, many found themselves with no other option but to embark on a dangerous journey to the United States border, despite knowing full well that the Title 42 policy would mean that they would likely not be able to enter the country.
Title 42 also confers false hope: Since migrants are denied entry or deported without a final decision on their asylum applications under this law, they repeatedly attempt to cross in the hope that they will eventually be granted permission to Entering the US As a result, they choose to remain in border migrant camps in squalid conditions for prolonged periods or attempt to enter the United States via dangerous and unregulated roads.
The US knows this, but still refuses to listen to calls for an end to Title 42. Even in the face of extreme heat waves that pose a deadly threat to migrants, the only action taken by the US Customs and Border agency The US was to issue a dry warning: “Summer heat poses increased risk of migrant deaths.”
The Title 42 deportations began under President Donald Trump, who had made reducing the number of migrants in the United States at any cost a primary goal of his presidency. After taking office, President Joe Biden was expected to quickly lift Title 42 and ensure that the country once again opens its doors to those in need, as it is obligated to do so under international law. However, due to Washington’s inability to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the country, along with a growing number of migrants arriving at the U.S. border, President Biden shelved his plans to end the inhumane policy. and possibly illegal from its predecessor. Immigration advocates who had long been negotiating with the Biden administration to end Trump-era politics are now preparing to take the United States government to court over the issue.
Not just immigration advocates, but the broader international community is putting pressure on the US to end this manufactured humanitarian crisis. Just last week, the United States refugee agency, UNHCR, called on the United States to end its COVID-19 border restrictions that prevent Central American refugees from seeking asylum in the country, citing the deepening crisis of violence, poverty and climate change in the region.
Furthermore, in light of the extreme weather events being experienced around the world, renewed attention is being paid to climate change and its impact on migration patterns. Last month, the US issued a crucial climate report, warning that humanity will experience more extreme weather in the coming years and will suffer the consequences of rising sea levels and melting Arctic ice. If nothing is done, all of this will inevitably result in more displacement and more migrants at the borders of the United States. As the world’s largest historical contributor to carbon emissions, the US bears a heavy responsibility for these results.
In light of all of this, many expected the Biden administration to take immediate action and implement not only immigration policies that prioritize human life over border security, but also environmental policies that would not only help save humanity’s future but also they would also prevent further forced displacement. Unfortunately, the administration failed to take action on both fronts.
While President Biden recognized the role climate change plays in driving migration from Central American countries to the U.S. border, and issued a presidential executive order for an interagency report to better understand how climate change is driving the migration and displacement, has not yet implemented it. any policy to address this reality.
In July, Vice President Kamala Harris unveiled her long-awaited strategy to address the “root causes” of Central American migration. But the strategy proved disappointing on many fronts. Most importantly, it did not express clearly enough the need for the United States to reduce its emissions and deliver on promises of global cooperative financing against climate change to prevent future humanitarian crises in the region. In addition, he did not underscore the need for the United States to work with rural and indigenous communities, women, and leaders in the Dry Corridor of Central America to identify problems and find sustainable solutions.
According to UNHCR, at the end of 2020, there were 82.4 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. In this dire context, it is more important today than ever to address the drivers of mass migration, especially climate change. All states, and especially rich economies like the US, should increase the funds they allocate to combat climate change and implement policies that reduce their carbon footprint. As they work to create the conditions for people to stay in their countries, they must also do everything they can to help those who have already left and found themselves in overcrowded, unsanitary and completely dangerous camps like Reynosa.
The United States knows that climate change is driving forced displacement. He knows that his policies are not only compounding the suffering of thousands of migrants who came to his border to find a better future, but are also creating new refugees throughout the region. So it’s time for you to recognize that the dynamics of scrolling have changed. Today, what the world needs is global governance that recognizes the devastating impact of climate change on migration patterns and, in turn, provides the necessary protections for climate refugees.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.