(CNN) — Devastating tropical cyclones hit a region more than 1,600 kilometers from the US-Mexico border, wiping out homes, crops and jobs. Months later, some migrants hoping to start over in the United States, heading to the Mexican border, say the hurricanes are a big reason behind their decision to head north.
“The house collapsed around us. Thank God my mother survived, “she said through tears. a teenager from Guatemala to CNN while taking his first steps in the United States.
«You always dream of living in a house with your children. Now we have nothing », said a Honduran mother from a bus station in Brownsville, Texas, after crossing the border with her 6-year-old daughter.
«[El huracán] Eta, plus the pandemic, left us with nothing, “a Honduran father told CNN en Español shortly after the US authorities deported him and his family to Reynosa, Mexico.
These voices from the border are a reminder of two major contributors to this crisis that have not received much attention, even as the political debate intensifies: climate change and covid-19.
The powerful back-to-back hurricanes of November 2020 took a heavy toll on a region already suffering from the economic devastation of the pandemic.
That makes the current situation on the US-Mexico border even more complicated.
Two intense hurricanes displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Now some of them are going to America
It’s a possibility that Central American political leaders and climate migration experts began to warn as soon as Hurricane Eta and Hurricane Iota struck. Months ago, a Honduran doctor who spoke to CNN said there was no doubt that tropical cyclones were going to generate more migration.
“So much famine is coming because the last harvest was lost. There is no capacity to store anything. Prices were already skyrocketing […] I don’t want to think about what goes through the minds of those who lost everything, “said Dr. María Angélica Milla, a specialist in Nutrition, in November. Get ready for the waves.
Climate change itself is rarely the only factor driving migration, says Kayly Ober, manager of the Climate Displacement Program at Refugees International. But by exacerbating existing problems, you can influence people’s decisions.
“In the case of hurricanes Eta and Iota, yes, the sheer intensity of scale and impact was definitely driven by climate change,” he says. “That caused an unprecedented level of destruction in some parts of the region.”
The floods wiped entire communities in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala off the map. The houses were destroyed. Millions of people were affected and hundreds of thousands were displaced.
Phil Klotzbach, a Colorado State University hurricane researcher who monitors and analyzes hurricane trends around the world, told CNN last year that the fact that water temperatures were warm enough As to allow both hurricanes to intensify rapidly so late in the hurricane season, it was a clear sign of global warming.
Many migrants who have spoken to CNN in the past month have said tropical cyclones influenced their decisions to flee. They have also mentioned other factors, such as the hope that a new American presidential administration is more welcoming.
Families in the region were already “surviving a knife’s edge” even before the hurricanes, facing food shortages and widespread violence, says Meghan López, regional vice president for Latin America for the International Rescue Committee.
«The hurricanes were […] the last in a series of what was a devastating year, ”he says, noting that tropical cyclones were part of a complicated combination of factors that fueled migration.
“To have the pandemic on top of that, to cut aid to the region, all these things create this pressure cooker where there is no escape valve,” says López. «And the only escape valve is to try to escape from the terrible situation in which people live […] People are making desperate decisions.
The pandemic had already aggravated the problems in Central America
López says the pandemic, like the hurricanes that hit the region, exacerbated existing problems.
“If people were already experiencing violence, then they were locked in their communities, locked in their homes with that violence,” she says. “Covid has really just exacerbated every single problem people face in the region, and every risk factor for migration in the region, on many, many levels.”
Another reason, Ober says, is that coping strategies that subsistence farmers would use to overcome economic hardships were no longer an option once the pandemic hit. For example, during prolonged and repeated droughts in the region known as «the dry corridor», it is common for farmers to temporarily move to cities for a season if their crops are having problems.
“With COVID-19, it was a double whammy,” says Ober. “If you moved to the city, there were lockdowns and you couldn’t access those economic opportunities anymore. It made it harder to overcome any kind of shock.
The pandemic pushed 22 million more people into poverty in Latin America last year, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, ECLAC. That adds to the consequences for public health, that have also been devastating.
Migration has also hampered logistics at the border
In addition to worsening economic conditions in Central America, the pandemic has also contributed to a long delay at the US-Mexico border.
“He’s playing a huge role,” says Sarah Pierce, Policy Analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.
A growing number of unaccompanied minors are detained in facilities that exceed the legal limit of 72 hours Because the shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) haven’t had enough space due to pandemic limitations on how many people they can house.
“The administration had limited HHS capabilities to house unaccompanied immigrant minors. They had reduced the space of their beds by 40%. Thousands of beds that would normally be available were not connected, ”says Pierce. Although those capacity rules were recently lifted and shelters have been increased to house more people, he says, the process has been slow.
Another major complicating factor: The pandemic is ongoing, raising public health questions about the conditions in the facilities where immigrants are detained and how coronavirus tests are performed.
“There hasn’t been much transparency about the testing process … It’s adding a layer of complexity to an already very challenging situation,” says Pierce.
And the government has not given the media access to the Customs and Border Protection facilities where many immigrants are being held, so there is still much we do not know about what is happening behind closed doors.
– Rosa Flores, Gustavo Valdés, Natalie Gallón, Priscilla Alvarez, Geneva Sands and Ashley Killough of CNN contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism