The Migrant Crisis Is Also a Climate Crisis

There are times when the juxtaposition of two mostly unrelated events tells a story. Such is the case with Trump’s approach to Central American migrants on our southern border. On the one hand, the administration announced this change on Wednesday.

There are currently more than 13,000 migrant children housed in over 100 shelters across America, where, as they await a caseworker to pair them with a sponsor, kids attend English classes, receive legal aid, and go outside at least once a day to play on an athletic field.

But on Wednesday, the Trump administration announced that those luxuries would soon be cut: In a statement, the Health and Human Services Department declared that shelters housing migrant youths will “begin scaling back or discontinuing awards for U.A.C. (unaccompanied minor) activities that are not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety, including education services, legal services, and recreation.”

Simultaneously, someone has decided that a portion of the wall this president loves so much isn’t pretty enough.

Members of the military deployed near the U.S.-Mexico border have been assigned to spend a month painting a mile-long stretch of barriers to improve their “aesthetic appearance.”

Lawmakers were notified of the action on Wednesday in an email message from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS…According to the email, the text of which was provided to CBS News by a congressional aide, an unspecified number of service members were set to paint barriers in the California border town of Calexico. The task, according to the email, would last approximately 30 days.

So children will be deprived of education and recreation while the military is deployed to improve the “aesthetic appearance” of a wall. Does that not tell you all you need to know about this president’s approach to migrants?

But there is another juxtaposition that is even more important to understand. Since the beginning of this year, a record number of migrants have been apprehended at our southern border. As has been the case for several years, they are primarily coming from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. While more recent numbers are not available, Lawfare’s Stephanie Leutert and Sarah Spalding have reported that over half of these migrants come from Guatemala.

Nicholas Kristof is currently reporting from that country and tells a story very similar to what we recently heard from Jonathan Blitzer. When it comes to the highlands of Guatemala, the surge of migrants from that region isn’t necessarily about fleeing violence, but fleeing the effects of climate change. The stories Kristof tells are truly heartbreaking.

“The weather has changed, clearly,” said Flori Micaela Jorge Santizo, a 19-year-old woman whose husband has abandoned the fields to find work in Mexico. She noted that drought and unprecedented winds have destroyed successive corn crops, leaving the family destitute, adding, “And because I had no money, my children died.”

Both her children, Isamara and Vidalia, died as infants in the last couple of years, Vidalia just six months ago…

Across some scorched corn and tomato fields, Julio Mateo Mateo, 42, explained why two of his sons had left for the United States: “They said, ‘There’s no rain. There’s nothing for us here.’” One son, Edvin, is now in Seattle, working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and sending money home. The other son, Domingo, was caught in March and is expected to be deported.

A third son, now 14, will be the next to try his luck. Remaining as crops fail and children suffer is not an option.

“There’s no rain, and no way to grow crops,” Mateo Mateo said. “One can’t live here.”

As Blitzer documented, Kristof notes that aid programs can help farmers adjust to climate change, but Trump cut off funding for those efforts, even as he denies the reality of climate change and rails about an “invasion” of migrants.

It is hard to imagine how a president could fail any more miserably in crafting a response to the juxtaposition of a climate crisis fueling a migrant crisis. But it’s even worse than failure. He’s actually doing things to make the situation worse. There are times when the word “deplorable” just isn’t strong enough to describe the ignorant bully who currently occupies the White House.

Say a prayer for the people of Guatemala as we do everything possible to get this man out of office.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.