an argument for immigration reform
Death and Sacrifice
By Miracle Tapia
The question of climate change is not whether the Earth has the ability to adapt to the effects of rapid industrialization; instead it is about whether human society has ability to remain compatible with the Earth’s adaptations.1 However, what will be an adaptation for some could result in a maladaptation for others. In Nicaragua, due to changes in soil nutrient availability and drier rain seasons, farmers have had a harder time maintaining financial independence. In light of reduced yields due to the drought, farmers have found it difficult to buy seeds, care for livestock, and therefore support their families. This human-natural system allocates power in the form of marketable livestock, land ownership, and labor, all of which are made possible by income. When comparing women-led and male-led households, the male led households demonstrated more resilience. Human-nature coupled systems are complex, though they have been studied from a social and natural science perspective separately; those studies do not show the difficult dynamics between social and ecological components. In a global study on the Complexity of Coupled Human and Natural Systems ecologists named key interactions and subsequent feedback cycles in natural and human coupled systems. Resiliency in an ecologist sense is “the capability to retain similar structures and functioning after disturbances for continuous development”. In Wolong, China ecologists observed that some fast-growing tree species were more resilient to fuelwood collection than their slow-growing counterparts, because they were able to mature at a faster rate. However, human intervention has also been observed to impact a coupled system’s resilience. Wetland ecosystems in Vattenriket have been able to stay balanced thanks to the grazing (and government incentives to make grazing economically accessible). In the context of Latin American human-natural systems’ resilience, other factors that come into play are the histories of exploitation and colonization. It is the cumulative impact of these issues that intensifies the impact of climate change and makes the need for just immigration laws all the more important.
The deliberate exploitation of Latin America is sponsored by a nexus of oppressive frameworks that justify and maintain its domination. Those frameworks include, but are not limited to, sexism, racism, and classism. In his book Open Veins of Latin America, Eduardo Galeano presents the various oppressions that citizens of Latin America experience. At the hands of colonizers, Latin America’s vast resources have been ‘transmuted’ into European and later U.S–capital, “nourishing” their prosperity but “generating” Latin American poverty. In Central America promises of free trade by the U.S were made, but instead of developing Central American economies these policies only benefited those that bought coffee exports. Despite the available soil, correct climate, and cultural agricultural knowledge, “These countries too were condemned to a chronic scarcity of rice, beans, corn wheat, tobacco, and meat”.3 Imperialist powers have embedded their values of production, class, and race into the understanding of social organization to the point that even Latin American countries face exploitation from within. Eduardo Galeano observes that a relationship between cities and rural communities harass rural areas to produce not only for their own development, but also for the progress of other countries. A consequence of a framework in which power and production is mostly appointed to masculine figures is the male-biased distribution of already limited economic resources. This disadvantages women and leaves both them and nature–a feminized concept– as subjects for the exercise of patriarchal power.
Men are able to accumulate capital because they are presented with opportunities to own land that can produce sustenance, in the form of food or income from the sale of large livestock animals. This is especially beneficial during low crop yield years because large livestock animals sell for more than smaller livestock. Men are also able to take out loans to supplement their farms during years in which crop yields are low. On the other hand, Nicaraguan women are unable to accumulate wealth. Since acquisition of farmland and large livestock is reserved for men it results in widespread dependence on men in traditional family structures.
Power is handed to those deemed more capable. However, the subjective nature of capability justifies the devaluation of some. If we break down our highly stratified society of domination we can find two other strata, class and race, that draw parallels between the labor expected of the Earth and the labor expected of women in Latin America.
Patriarchy is only a stratum within a society that assigns subordinate roles to feminized bodies that pressures them to do uncompensated work.5 Sexist and speciesist rhetoric allows for subhuman treatment of feminized bodies.6 Imposing European ideals gender roles on the Earth further justifies the exploitation of natural resources, destruction of habitat and constant expectation of the Earth to produce. This is the work of the two word phrase, Mother Earth. In the U.S, the environmental movement has a history of referring to the Earth as a feminized object. Even in conversations about developing consensual and sustainable relationships with the Earth, rhetoric that is more exploitative than reciprocal is relied on. Author Robin Wall Kimmerer in her work The Honorable Harvest urges readers to learn from indigenous tradition of building reciprocal and consensual relationships with nature.7 However, despite her efforts, her inadvertent feminization of the Earth undermines the lesson she hopes to teach. She writes, “ …the laws of Mother Nature… Deeply rooted in cultures of gratitude, this ancient rule is not just to take only what you need, but to take only that which is given.” The work of the word mother in this excerpt solidifies in the reader that the Earth should be expected to constantly provide for humanity. Later she draws on an analogy that compares the behavior children are taught towards sweet grandmothers and she makes the suggestion that likewise humans should be taught to also not to take advantage of mother earth. By imposing abstract concepts of European gender roles on nature, it marks it as frail and allows for humans to make decisions on its behalf.
On the other hand, speciesist rhetoric is language used to dehumanize those that it is applied to. The use of non-human epithets to describe women, such as bitch, cows, queen bee; regardless of their connotation, apply specific duties and further the alienation of women from the rest of society.8 The same rhetoric of a patriarchal society that allows for the uncompensated labor and oppression of women can also apply to the domination of nature. One of the people caught at the intersection of this sexist, anthro-centered, capitalist issue are Latin American women from rural communities. Traditional gender roles expect that women provide for food, cleaning, and emotional support for their family. Given the connection between femininity and the Earth, it is not a surprise that the Earth is also expected to “take care” of the carbon emissions dumped by foreign corporations or to filter out toxins.
Thinking about the already existing frameworks that leave those at these intersections the most vulnerable, women living in rural areas of Latin America, means that in the near future climate displacement will be felt with magnified reverberations . Currently, the main reasons that people choose to emigrate from Latin America are economic stability, political stability, personal development, and endangerment from violence. Cracking open each of these reasons reveals the purposeful manipulation by its successive colonizers at its root. It is the purposeful manipulation by its successive colonizers.
In a future that proposes a 1 to 2 degree celsius increase to global temperature, or a 4 degrees celsius jump according to more recent reportschanges need to be made to immigration laws that take into account the situations imposed on Latin American countries. Though North America will also be subject to floods, natural disasters, disease and a reduction of farmable land, the subjectification of Latin America to imperialist powers creates more significant effects on citizens of agro-economies. Latin American rice yields have been observed to already be in decline. Dairy and cattle productivity is expected to decline as well with rising temperatures. If the U.S continues to perpetuate an expectation of Latin America to nourish those outside of their natural system in addition to sustaining their own communities, then there will be even less for agricultural workers. In addition to those experiencing hunger in Latin America now, if the effects of CO2 are not considered, about 85 million more people will experience hunger in a 2080 projection. As dire as that sounds, a regional assessment shows that major human health impacts in the Americas will be: heat stress, malaria, and dengue which will be felt to a worse extreme in Latin America due to the already hot and humid climate. In order to positively impact the resilience of this human-nature system, reparative immigration laws should be passed that encourage immigration flow to ensure the adaptation of the land and its people to climatic changes.
Modern immigration laws have been criticized as unfair and violent; however, they are not just products of recent administrations or a recent symptom of the U.S political spectrum moving right. Immigration laws and the environmental movement have a history of racist and eugenics based beliefs. One of the first politically backed environmental movements in the U.S was the “preservation of national parks”.4 The part that is often left out from the end of that sentence is for the enjoyment of white men. Or if you prefer, in the words of Madison Grant–a eugenicists conservationist– and president Roosevelt, who worked on the implementation of the national parks program and whose work influenced the 1924 Immigration Act, for the preservation of “lordly” and “noble” species, that they loved to hunt. The preservation of national parks was so that those part of the elite class would be able to enjoy their definition of wilderness.
Recalling the Nicaraguan case study, family dynamics expect men to help with agricultural activities while women are expected to do domestic household work as well as tend for small livestock. However, due to the change in agricultural production of the area some people have adopted migration as an adaptation strategy. Though sons that immigrate are adapting to the change of labor demand, the removal of men from male-headed households that depend on sons for work leads to the maladaptation of the family. Despite having daughters that could aid in the cultivation and harvesting work, families go without sufficient labor to maintain their farms because of the removal of male labor force.9 Though emigrating is one choice for adapting, the imposition of oppressive frameworks that created these injustices are not a choice.
Over the last two decades scientists have observed a variety of changes in the Latin American climate. Precipitation has increased in Paraguay, Uruguay, parts of Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil. Meanwhile regions of Southern Chile and Peru have seen a decrease in precipitation.10 A 2021 IPCC report communicated that some regions of Latin America could expect extreme climate events including heavy precipitations lasting a few days. This will not only shift the production of agro-economies of these countries, it will also force many people to re-learn to inhabit these regions or be forced to leave all together. Nicaraguan families have already begun to see the more personal effects of the clash of environmental change and political instability. The study referenced previously conducted by the World Bank about the gendered experiences of Nicaraguans solidifies the interconnectedness of the political, natural, class, and economic systems.
Latin America has been geologically blessed by being in a location with soil and climate that should have enabled its inhabitants to not only sustain themselves but their economies as well. Instead it made them targets for imperialist powers to conquer, monopolize, and extract from. The physical extraction of resources takes the form of many things, including minerals and textiles, labor, the bountiful agro-economies found in Latin America. In the face of a 2° celsius increase in global temperature–at best–it leaves an already vulnerable population more vulnerable. In the future the globe will have to deal with: rising sea levels, potential defrosting of previously dormant bacteria, fires, and heavier tropical storms. In the eye of the storm will be those already marginalized by the current systems. Latin America should not only be defined by its oppression, it is important to call-out its oppressors in order to ensure that in the next chapter of society reparative work takes place. Fictional power boundaries create the potential for the maladaptation of women in Latin America. Now more than ever, there is a need for sympathetic immigration laws that encourage immigration flow and understand the repercussions of climate change on livelihoods.
1 Brown, 2021
2 Segnestam, Lisa.
3 Galeano, Eduardo. Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent a Book by Eduardo Galeano and Isabel Allende, 1997.
4Jonathan Blitzer and Photography by Mauricio Lima, “How Climate Change Is Fuelling the U.S. Border Crisis,” The New Yorker, April 3, 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/news/dispatch/how-climate-change-is-fuelling-the-us-border-crisis.
5Seamon, David. “Green Paradise Lost By Elizabeth Dodson Gray (Wellesley, Massachusetts: Roundtable Press, 1981, 166 Pp.).” Environmental Review 8, no. 3 (September 1, 1984): 298–99. https://doi.org/10.2307/3984330.
6Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations. Duke University Press, 1995. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv1198x6d.
7Braiding Sweetgrass, The Honorable Harvest, 2016.
8Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations. Duke University Press, 1995.
9 Segnestam, Lisa. “Gendered Experiences of Adaptation to Drought: Patterns of Change in El Sauce, Nicaragua.”
10 “Latin America — IPCC.” Accessed October 12, 2021.