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Congress Unveils First Bill To Address Climate Refugee Crisis

Congress Unveils First Bill To Address Climate Refugee Crisis

Ari Kelo
Climate refugee

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a new bill to protect climate refugees.

The Climate Displaced Persons Act, written by Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), would create a new federal program specifically for refugees displaced by climate change. If enacted into law, the U.S. would take in at least 50,000 climate refugees each year, beginning in 2020.

Although long overdue, backlash from both President Trump and the Republican-led Senate may stall any attempts to turn this bill into law. Regardless, this bill provides an important blueprint for future policies on climate-related migration.

And notably, this bill is the first of its kind to address the growing number of migrants displaced by climate change.

What is the Climate Displaced Persons Act?

Written in reaction to the rising number of people displaced by climate-related catastrophes, this bill would create an action plan on how the U.S. can help.

Since 2009, a climate-related disaster has displaced about one person every second. This rate accounts for extreme weather events, famine, drought, and rising sea levels, among other climate emergencies.

Overwhelmingly, 22.5 million people have been displaced due to climate change in the past decade. And the UN speculates that number could rise to 200 million forcibly displaced people by 2050.

Accordingly, this bill has two major aims. It intends to “establish a Global Climate Change Resilience Strategy and authorize the admission of climate-displaced persons,” according to its first draft.

In particular, the bill entails the U.S. taking on more responsibility in handling the global crisis.

It would create a humanitarian program separate from the U.S. refugee admissions program, specifically for those affected by climate change. The new program would guarantee the same benefits for climate refugees.

The legislation would also task the Secretary of State with devising a Global Climate Change Resilience Strategy. This is turn will create a Coordinator of Climate Resilience position within the State Department.

If made law, the bill will also provide a minimum of 50,000 climate migrants resettlement opportunities in the U.S. each year.

New legislation for climate refugees

To Rep. Velázquez, immigration policy must acknowledge the role of climate change.

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“If we are going to meaningfully discuss comprehensive climate equity and climate justice, we must inject security assistance and resettlement opportunities for climate-displaced persons into our conversations,” she said in a press release.

So far, the U.S. has failed in this cause. Just last month, President Trump reduced the maximum refugee cap to 18,000 — a new low. And with his administration tightening up on immigration of all kinds, it’s unlikely he’ll loosen up on climate-related migration, to say the least.

But President Trump’s refusal to support climate science or immigration hasn’t dissuaded Rep. Velázquez.

“Despite this Administration’s efforts to strip the world’s most vulnerable populations of refuge, America will continue to stand tall as a safe haven for immigrants,” she insisted.

After its introduction on Wednesday, the House referred the bill to the Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Committees on the Judiciary and Energy and Commerce will also review the bill before the House continues its deliberation.

Democrat Edward Markey, a key supporter of the Green New Deal, has introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

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