Sep 20, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Trump administration ignored internal report on climate change and migration

Migrants use rafts to cross the Suchiate river from Ciudad Hidalgo in Chiapas State, Mexico, to Tecun Uman in Guatemala

Photo: Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump administration froze some foreign aid intended to ease the impact of climate change in Guatemala despite evidence from one of its own agencies that it is a factor driving record Central American migration, NBC News reports.

The big picture: The White House has instead focused on stemming the flow of migrants by agreeing to use law enforcement measures, centered on sending U.S. officials, vehicles and equipment to Guatemala to stop immigrants from other countries from passing through on their way to the U.S.

  • That agreement, which was finalized in July, does not mention the effects of climate change on migration.

The backdrop: NBC obtained a report created by U.S. Customs and Border Protection — given to senior Department of Homeland Security officials — that showed immigration spiked from areas of Guatemala that don't have reliable subsistence farming or wages from commercial farming jobs.

  • Scientists have listed climate change as a catalyst driving food insecurity.
  • Months after the report was finalized, the Trump administration froze $170 million in foreign aid to Central American nations in a funding review for the 2017 fiscal year. Part of that money was used to mitigate the effects of climate change on small farms.
  • More than $400 million in aid that had been set for the 2018 fiscal year will also be repurposed elsewhere.

The state of play: The funding freeze vexed advocates — both inside and outside the Trump administration — who supported solutions to "push factors" that drive migrants to leave their homes.

  • A DHS official told NBC that high turnover at the agency made officials nervous about losing their jobs.
  • "Everyone knows [White House adviser Stephen] Miller isn't interested in hearing about climate change," the official said.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Stef Knight: Migration crises are never random. Parents don’t get up and take their children on perilous, expensive journeys for no reason, but the Trump administration’s messaging has consistently focused on potential draws of the U.S.’s outdated immigration system rather than what is driving Central Americans to leave in the first place.

  • The bottom line: This messaging fits better with Trump’s tough stance on immigration.

Go deeper: Why the migrant crisis is happening now

Go deeper