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Extreme heat waves, droughts, fires, hurricanes, and floods surging in the United States and across the globe are wake-up calls to the reality of a climate-altered world. While climate change affects everyone, the damage is compounded for countries and communities that are made vulnerable by restrictive immigration policies, patriarchal beliefs and systems, structural racism, and by economic stress and exploitation.This report seeks to inspire justice-oriented funders to invest at the nexus of the climate and immigrant justice movements, with a particular eye to the unique vulnerabilities and contributions of immigrants. Philanthropic investment at this pivotal juncture would help build a healthy and collaborative ecosystem across movements and is both a moral and strategic priority. This can enable forward planning of legal pathways for people who lose their homes; protections and opportunities for workers and communities who are striving to build resilience; and the power to win and implement urgent, equitable, and effective responses to climate challenges.
Climate change will displace millions of people around the world over the coming decades. While many of these climate-displaced persons will migrate internally, many will be displaced across international borders. This study is one of the first to ask whether the American public views climate-displaced persons as meriting admission to the United States through a humanitarian admissions stream. Our research indicates that Americans believe that displacement by climate change makes a prospective migrant as deserving of humanitarian immigration relief as those migrants fleeing persecution—the criterion for asylum or refugee status currently recognized in our refugee and asylum laws. Given that no such form of relief currently exists for climate-displaced persons under U.S. refugee and asylum laws, our research identifies a gap between public preferences and existing law.Our findings reveal that the American public ranks environmental displacement explicitly due to climate change as equally deserving of refugee status or asylum as persecution due to political opinion, persecution due to national origin, and persecution due to membership in a social group—three of the five currently recognized bases for asylum or refugee status in the United States. We investigate the factors that may influence how members of the American public perceive climate-displaced persons, including individuals' opinions on and experience with climate change. Even among those skeptical of climate change, displacement due to climate change is considered as deserving of asylum in the United States as is persecution when compared to economic migrants. Not only do Americans favor providing asylum to those displaced by climate change at the same levels as the currently accepted criteria, but climate skeptics also do not differ in statistically significant ways.When asked to assign a ranking to the reasons a person might seek asylum in the United States, respondents ranked climate-related displacement on par with persecution based on nationality, political opinion, and membership in a social group. Only persecution based on race and religion rank higher on average than displacement due to climate change. A member of the U.S. public is more likely to perceive an individual fleeing the negative effects of climate change as deserving asylum in the United States than an individual seeking economic opportunity. These findings suggest that barriers to including climate change-displaced migrants in U.S. humanitarian admissions streams may be lower than previously thought—a finding with live policy implications as the Biden administration considers how it will manage the migration effects of a warming planet.
This essay argues that the robust right to exclude that nation states currently enjoy will be harder to justify in an era of climate change. Similar to landowners, nation states have virtual monopolies over portions of the earth. However, the right of landowners to control who enters their land is considerably more constrained than the right of nation states to control who enters their territory. Climate change will alter the areas of the earth suitable for human habitation and the broad right of nation states to exclude will be more difficult to justify in this new environment.