Climate change in Latin America — and the accompanying drought, flooding and desertification — is likely to drive increased illegal migration across the Mexico-U.S. border in coming years, according to a report.
Worsening economic conditions, spiraling social tensions and growing political instability will drive greater numbers to make the dangerous journey to the United States in the long term, according to the American Security Project, a bipartisan nonprofit research group focused on national security threats.
A separate study from the Pew Hispanic Center found that illegal migration across the southern U.S. border had fallen in the past two years, likely owing to the tepid U.S. economy and increased enforcement.
While migration might be down in the short term, in the long term the “United States is likely to see an increase in migrants all across the southern border due to climate change and its follow-on effects,” said the report’s author, Lindsey Ross, a scholar at the American Security Project.
Because of established migration routes into the United States and the opportunities for a better life, “climate migrants” from across Latin America are likely to seek to immigrate, the report said.
Ms. Ross’ report, which was published Wednesday, is the latest in a series of dire predictions about the consequences of climate change for regional migration flows and their effects on the United States.
Ms. Ross said the report aims to “draw the attention of policy-makers to implications for the southern border of climate change in the western hemisphere. … [A] lot of the major effects [of climate change] have yet to manifest themselves.”
The report lists declining agricultural yields, growing desertification, increased flooding in coastal areas and worsening water shortages as Andean glaciers melt as “secondary and tertiary” effects of climate change that will likely increase migration.
“It’s a witch’s brew of causes,” said the project’s executive director, James M. Ludes. “People make migration decisions based on a variety of factors. … We are highlighting a whole new set of factors that are climate change-related.”
Johanna Mendelson Forman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said her own research bore out the report’s findings. For many migrants and potential migrants, declining agricultural productivity resulting from less rainfall meant it was “harder to make a living,” she said.
“The more desertification, the more droughts in Mexico [and elsewhere in Latin America], the more migration,” she said.
On the region’s coasts and on Caribbean islands, rising sea levels and worsening hurricanes will likely occur, Ms. Forman said.
“Sixty percent of the Caribbean population lives in coastal regions,” she said. “What will happen to them? … Will they take to boats to try and reach the mainland [of North America]?”
Larry Birns of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a nonproft group that has criticized U.S. policy in the region, said “the scale of the impact” of climate change in Latin America and beyond “almost defies the imagination.”
Despite its “explosive potential,” climate change “has not become part of the discussion on immigration” in the United States, he added.
Mr. Ludes said he has seen no evidence that U.S. agencies are planning for increased migration: “My sense is that the folks at [Customs and Border Protection] are so inundated with what they’re facing right now, they are not looking down the road.”
A spokesman for the agency said it would have no comment on the report.