March 2, 2024

What’s particularly disturbing about this week’s ordeal, though, is just how little the people on the receiving end of immigration policy seem to matter to the Democratic pundits and politicians looking to score political points off of it. Having already treated the lives of migrants as a poker chip to fund foreign wars, party leaders are ginning up an arms race with Republicans over who wants the toughest crackdown. “I’m here in the Senate demanding a secure border,” Senator John Fetterman boasted, “and they won’t take yes for an answer. Who wants an open border now, Senate Republicans?” The White House sent out a memo to reporters along the same lines: “Will the House G.O.P. vote with the Border Patrol to secure the border, or with Donald Trump for more fentanyl?” As ever, the result of all this will be to keep dragging the conversation about immigration ever-farther toward the right’s hellish vision of a country proudly hostile to outsiders.

The White House’s strategy here (if you can call it that) would be craven and stupid in any context. On a planet where people are being regularly displaced by the effects of climate change, it’s profoundly reckless. Climate migration is not some far-off concern: A study released last year found that drier-than-usual growing season weather was a predictor of emigration from Central America to the U.S. between 2012 and 2018. Hurricanes—like those that pummeled Honduras in 2020—level homes and fields, making people more vulnerable to threats they might have faced otherwise. Countries on the losing end of punishing U.S. sanctions, like Cuba and Venezuela, face even tougher roads to recovery from climate-related disasters.

The U.S. hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with funds that might allow more people to remain in their home countries and recover from storms, floods and droughts. The UN only agreed to establish an international fund to help countries rebuild from climate-related disasters in 2022, after climate vulnerable countries managed to overcome years of obstruction from the U.S., especially. The fund has struggled to get off the ground thanks to more subtle forms of sabotage from the United States and rich countries reluctant to put down cash. Between 2013 and 2018, the United States, Germany, Japan, the UK, Canada, France and Australia together spent more than twice as much on border and immigration enforcement than on climate finance.