Migrants on the move

Migrants on the move

"We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years. We are expelling most single adults and families. We are not expelling unaccompanied children." So said US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas earlier this week. US Customs and Border Protection reports an average of 565 children traveling alone now crossing the border per day, up from 313 last month.

Who are the migrants? US officials say most people now reaching the US border are adults travelling by themselves, but numbers of both families and unaccompanied children are growing. There are changes in where they're coming from. With exact numbers from border officials, the Washington Post's Nick Miroff reports that the highest number of families is now coming from Honduras, the most unstable country in Central America. Many kids traveling alone come from Guatemala, where the youth population and unemployment are both high and smuggling networks are most fully developed. There are now fewer migrants from El Salvador, where the Nayib Bukele government has made progress against gang violence.

Why the surge? The transition from Donald Trump to Joe Biden in Washington has persuaded some would-be-migrants that a limited window now exists for entry into the US. Human traffickers, short on cash following the migration slowdown of the Trump years and most dangerous months of pandemic, are now eager for more income, and thus reinforcing that message. Making matters more urgent, in November two major hurricanes inflicted severe human and economic damage in Central America, particularly in Honduras.

Taking to the road is always dangerous, especially for young children. Most take this step for the same reasons that others have taken it before them: they hope to find a much better life for themselves and their families away from the violence, corruption, and poverty all around them. In particular, research published last year by Doctors Without Borders found that more than 75 percent of Central American migrants traveling with children toward the US border reported leaving their home countries due to threats of violence, including forced recruitment by gangs.

Countries along the route are struggling to cope. In January, under pressure from the US and Mexican governments, Guatemalan police turned back a caravan of thousands of Hondurans. Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has warned that migrants remain vulnerable to his country's violent drug gangs, which have a history of kidnapping, sexual assault, human trafficking, and forced gang initiation of migrants. In addition, the surge in numbers of migrants entering Mexico headed north comes at a moment when COVID-19 makes sheltering migrants much more complicated.

Those who reach the US border may not find what they're hoping for. The US isn't ready for them, and the Biden administration, under intense criticism from Republicans for enabling this surge by promising to loosen Trump administration border restrictions, isn't welcoming them. Under the current policy, single adults and families are being refused entry as part of US efforts to contain COVID-19. "I can say quite clearly don't come," Biden has said to the migrants. "We're in the process of getting set up… Don't leave your town or city or community."

Mayorkas has promised a "safe, legal and orderly immigration system," including by streamlining the process by which asylum applications are filed and considered, but that will take time and prove much easier said than done. Last week, the Biden administration announced it would begin processing backlogged asylum applications for about 25,000 people that had stalled under the Trump administration's Remain in Mexico policy, but that process won't move quickly either.

Bottom line: Life on the road is hard and getting harder, but that isn't stopping larger numbers of desperate people from taking the risk in hopes of applying for asylum. Every government along their path is scrambling to prepare.

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Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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Listen: In a wide-ranging interview with Ian Bremmer, Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert assesses the current state of the climate crisis and answers a simple question: how screwed are we? And as the climate continues to warm at a record pace, she unpacks some of the more extreme climate solutions that some increasingly desperate nations are starting to consider. Such measures may sound like stuff of science fiction (see: injecting sulfur particles into the atmosphere or shooting millions of tiny orbital mirrors into outer space) as times become more desperate, their appeal is growing. Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

China is making its neighbors nervous these days. Chinese fighter jets are screaming into Taiwan's airspace. Hundreds of armed Chinese "fishing boats" are plying the disputed waters of the South China Sea. And Beijing is slashing imports from some trading partners because of disputes over political issues.

To push back against this increasingly aggressive behavior, regional powers Japan, India, and Australia, together with the US, are boosting cooperation via a 17-year-old grouping called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or simply "The Quad." But how effectively can these four countries really work together to counter China? Eurasia Group's Peter Mumford discusses the Quad's future.

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Want to tackle climate change? If so you'll have to reach out to China, which is currently responsible for over a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions. Beijing will certainly take your call, as climate is a huge priority for President Xi Jinping.

Xi has promised that China will go "net zero" — meaning its carbon emissions will be offset by equal amounts of either natural or tech-driven carbon capture — by 2060. Is a decade later than most of the top 10 polluting countries fast enough for the rest of the world? It is for the Chinese, who want to help but have their own ideas about how.

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When will it be safe for the world's children to be vaccinated against COVID-19? The World Health Organization's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that vaccines are being tested in children down to the age of six or even lower, and promises that data on children will be shared as soon as it's available. She also notes that there are not enough studies on transmission in schools, and the WHO has advised governments to prioritize schools "over other things like shopping malls or cinema halls or pubs." Dr. Swaminathan spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 9. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Over the past half century, climate change has had an immense impact on the farmers who produce the food we eat. A new study by Cornell University shows that global warming has knocked 21 percent off of global agriculture productivity growth since 1965, equivalent to seven years of normal growth if humans had not polluted the planet. But not all countries have been affected in the same say. Farmers in warmer parts of the world have been hit hard as conditions grow more arid, but sub-polar regions in Canada or Siberia are now actually better for agriculture because they are not as cold as they used to be. Here we take a look at how climate has affected farming productivity growth around the world.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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Can "the Quad" constrain China?