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No, the Border Crisis Isn’t about Climate Change

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Dozens of asylum-seeking migrants from Central America walk north before surrendering to the U.S. Border Patrol after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States from Mexico in La Joya, Texas, May 7, 2021. (Adrees Latif/Reuters) It’s about economics — and the Biden administration’s immigration policies.

There seem to be two rules in American political life: Everything is a crisis, and every crisis is actually another, different, crisis. Outlets across America tell readers that we are facing an energy crisis, a debt crisis, and a health-care crisis. From there, one “crisis” is frequently conflated with another, until it’s hard to keep America’s problems straight.

In the latest example of this troublesome trend, news outlets have begun conflating climate change and the border crisis. In April, a CNBC story quoted the claims of numerous experts that climate change is a “major factor” in immigration trends. Then, on Monday, Politico published an article arguing that our border crisis is actually about climate change.

The Politico article asserts that many residents of Guatemala struggle with food insecurity and malnutrition as a result of the changing climate. It cites a study from the International Organization for Migration, which asked Guatemalan migrants why they’d left their homes, and notes that 20 percent of respondents cited natural disasters or climate change as the reason for their departure. It then reports that:

Climate change, in the coming years, will only continue to exacerbate an already dire situation for millions of Guatemalans, analysts say. In the long term, the number of people in the region displaced by climate change is only expected to grow dramatically — leading many to migrate to more urban areas in Guatemala or head north to Mexico or the U.S. in search of jobs, money and security.

The article’s argument might seem plausible at first glance. But a closer look at the IOM’s study shows that economic concerns, rather than climate change, are the biggest reason migrants are leaving Guatemala. Seventy-seven percent of survey respondents cited better employment opportunities as a reason for leaving. The next three most-cited reasons

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