mojo 1Building a wall, establishing a camp, creating a new border force, stopping the boats – these are all political shorthand for decisive action. Even if they don’t amount to much in the end, they give the impression of control amid chaos, and they hold out the hope of immediate results.”

~ Anne Gallagher

The migrant caravan approaching our southern border in this month’s news is an eerie foreshadowing of one of the impacts of climate change — dislocation of whole populations. In this case, the dislocation is caused by crime and corruption in Latin American countries (due in no small part to past U.S. intervention) that is driving individuals and families to seek a better life elsewhere. What have they got to lose?

Many factors can cause this kind of dislocation — war, crime, famine, drought, plagues, natural disasters, political upheaval — the list goes on. Climate change is expected to warm the planet, creating drier and hotter zones around the equator. The changes will likely lead to shifts in agricultural production, impacting the economies and availability of food and water supplies. Weather will become more extreme, with more tornadoes, hurricanes, and flooding. Sea level rise will cause many coastal and low-lying areas to become uninhabitable.

Whether we can sustain the Earth’s population and civilizations is not obvious.

As usual, our response is bipolar: we either panic or ignore it. The current response to climate change by many politicians is that it is a hoax, or at best a misunderstood natural cycle. (“Nothing to see here. Move along now.”) Similarly, our political response to the migrant caravan is to become irrationally frightened and “send in the troops!” Nothing helps to deal with a bunch of starving women and children like 15,000 soldiers armed with automatic weapons, rockets and bombs.

On top of that, armed independent militia groups are planning patrols along the border to “protect our country and our jobs!” (No word on what jobs the militia guys have that allow them the time necessary to patrol the border for the next month or so. Although I suspect many are retired, get social security or military pensions, maybe others could get some of the previous refugees to cover their jobs while they patrol.) The Pentagon’s pre-deployment assessment identified the greatest risk to be not from the caravan, but from anticipated conflicts between the U.S. military and rogue militia groups. And, the effort is going to cost hundreds of million dollars, just for a pre-mid-term political stunt; money that could easily be used for some climate change mitigation.

How do we deal with the immigrants when they arrive? Anne Gallagher, President of the International Catholic Migration Commission, notes that integration into the new community is essential to success.

Integration is the delicate, critical transition of the migrant from outsider to insider — the process by which migrants become a part of their new community. Successful integration is hard to measure because it is multilayered, touching every part of the migrant experience, from education to housing, political participation and civic engagement … if it is to be done properly, integration of migrants is a long and often fraught process for all involved. It requires migrants to yield to the reality of their new lives and to agree to taking those lives forward in ways that may not have been their choice. It requires receiving communities and governments to accept new arrivals, to accommodate their presence with material and spiritual generosity and to be open to the possibility of enrichment.

Failure to successfully integrate immigrants into the community results in isolation, increased lack of understanding and acceptance by the receiving population, and “migrants lagging far behind established populations across a broad swathe of quality of life indicators including academic achievement and workforce participation.”

Integration involves allowing the individuals to become an integral part of the community, retaining their unique identities. In contrast, assimilation involves the transition of the individual’s identity to that of the existing population. While segregation is unhealthy, so is the loss of an individual’s self-identification.

Gallagher goes on to identify that successful integration is tied to four concepts:

  • Receiving communities need help — adding people into an existing community causes many issues and creates a burden on the receiving community. Support in the form of funding and political will are required.
  • Success requires planning — interjecting people into an existing community works best if the community can maximize real employment opportunities and, more broadly, to match migrant with destination — ‘power of place’.
  • Honesty and genuine partnership are rewarded — integration is a “two-way process — a partnership between the community and the migrant” and both the problems and successes need to be acknowledged and addressed.
  • Evidence matters — while we don’t know all the factors that play into successful integration, and the immigrants can’t wait for the data to be collected and studied, we need to continue to look frankly at the successes and failures of immigration.

With climate change looming, we know that immigration from the globe’s “hot spots” will be a greater issue in the future than it is now. It’s not a new phenomena, but we currently have a chance to figure out how to make it work in the future for both the immigrant and the receiving population.

After all, it is only our humanity that’s at stake.

Additional information:

Anne Gallagher, We need to talk about integration after migration. Here are four ways we can improve it, 25 Oct 2018,World Economic Forum

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