Apr 6, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Climate change, violence changing migration patterns in the Americas

Illustration of eight adult and children migrants walking in a group, set in front of a background depicting downed power lines and flooding in Honduras

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photos: Pedro Pardo/AFP, Seth Sidney Berry/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The effects of climate change, violence, political instability and economic strife across Latin America and the Caribbean are forcing millions of people to migrate.

The big picture: Not only are more people coming to the U.S., they're also migrating more within Latin America and beyond the cities that have long drawn migrants.

State of play: Ecuador has for at least two decades drawn many migrants from nearby countries. Now people are leaving Ecuador as a rise in gang violence has made living in major cities like Guayaquil untenable for many.

  • Natural disasters, which climate change has worsened and made more frequent, have also forced more Guatemalans, Panamanians, Dominicans and Hondurans to leave home.
  • Financial pressures aggravated by the pandemic and worsening inflation also contribute to rising migration, such as from Colombia, which had record emigration last year.

Between the lines: Another major issue prompting increased movements across the Americas is a lack of policies to help new immigrants adapt culturally and be allowed to contribute to the country's economy, said Diego Chaves-González, senior manager of the Latin America and Caribbean Initiative at the Migration Policy Institute.

  • Most measures addressing migration in the region focus strictly on regulating migration instead of on policies to help people who have already migrated, he added.
  • For example, more Nicaraguans are trying to get to the U.S. as the political crackdown at home has worsened in the past two years. In the past, many had moved to Costa Rica, but getting legal status there has become much harder amid reports of anti-immigrant sentiment.
  • Similarly, many Venezuelans who in the past fled political instability and food and medicine shortages to other South American nations have started to trek north since the pandemic.
  • Some Venezuelans have said they felt they were languishing in a limbo while facing xenophobia and long waits for legal status in nations such as Peru or, until recently, Colombia.

What they're saying: "The dynamics we'd been seeing for a long time have become sort of more elastic or fluctuating," Chaves-González said.

  • "And still most policies are focused only on one border," he added, referring to how so much emphasis is placed on on addressing migration at the Mexico-U.S. border.

What to watch: Last June, 21 governments in the Americas, including the United States, signed the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration, promising to develop regional and coordinated solutions to regulate the flow of people.

  • Representatives from the signatory nations met again in Washington, D.C., last September to begin forming joint plans of action.
  • But to truly make a difference, any future proposals need to get appropriate funding and political buy-in, as well as include programs that help build resilience against threats posed by climate change and cooperation against criminal groups, Chaves-González said.

This story is part of a series in Axios Latino focused on immigration to the United States.

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