‘A whole new world’: Professors discuss climate change, immigration

Photo of Maxine A. Burkett and E. Tendayi Achiume
From left to right: Maxine Burkett, E. Tendayi Achiume

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The Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality and Anti-Discrimination Law’s Immigrant Justice and Climate Refugees Working Group held its inaugural event virtually Tuesday.

The event, titled Criminalization of Climate Migrants, hosted two speakers for a discussion on the intersection of immigration and climate change. Carrie Rosenbaum, director of the working group, facilitated the discussion, which featured UCLA School of Law professor E. Tendayi Achiume and University of Hawai’i at Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law professor Maxine Burkett. The discussion covered topics such as immigration prisons, the future of migration due to climate change and international views on migrants.

Burkett noted that the current 1.1 degree Celsius increase in global temperature has given rise to this past summer’s dry lightning, firestorms and hurricanes. It also led to 100-degree heat waves in Siberia, rendering its June and parts of its July hotter than Honolulu, Burkett added.

“This is where we are now and again we are set to go significantly higher,” Burkett said during the event. “The global temperature increase will quite literally produce a whole new world, and existing law, as well as lack of relevant laws, can aggravate the negative impacts of climate change.”

When answering a question on the imprisonment of immigrants in response to migration, Achiume said utilizing these prisons has not always been the answer and should not be treated as inevitable.

“The United States has treated immigration prisons as a go-to response in ways that are deeply troubling that speak to … the financial benefit that is gained from using this particular mechanism, and then also the political grandstanding that is associated with having images or a discourse that says ‘we’re being tough on immigration,’” Achiume said.

According to Achiume, the way to make a change and promote a better future is to encourage solidarity between movements, as seen in the banding together to fight for Indigenous rights, Black rights and immigrant rights. She added that the U.S. tends to ignore international law and urged domestic advocates to engage more on the international level.

Burkett also referenced a 2010 study that projected that 1.4 to 6.7 million adults will migrate due to the effect of climate change on agriculture by 2080. According to Burkett, people should think in an inclusive and “woven-together” way to address this phenomenon of climate change-driven migration.

“There’s this notion that these borders meaningfully define or limit national interest in a way that relates sensibly to teaching climate,” Burkett said. “Climate change is indifferent to this political map.”

Contact Dina Katgara at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dinakatgara.