Climate of Coercion: Project Overview

Download the Report (English):

Climate of Coercion: Environmental and Other Drivers of Cross-Border Displacement in Central America and Mexico 

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Clima de Coerción: Medioambiente y Otros Desencadenantes del Desplazamiento en Centroamérica y México

Climate change and climate-driven disasters can intersect with and exacerbate targeted violence, conflict, and other forms of persecution that drive people to leave their homes and cross borders to seek humanitarian protection. At the U.S.-Mexico border, many people seeking protection have faced violence and persecution in their countries of origin and along their journeys. Climate change is actively making these stress factors worse and contributing to forced displacement in Mexico and Central America.


However, instead of access to protections enshrined in international human rights law, people seeking safety across borders are often met with pushback policies by states seeking to prevent, contain, or reverse their movements. Such policies expose displaced people to further violence. They also drive migrants and asylum seekers into dangerous terrain made even more perilous by rising temperatures and intensifying precipitation patterns. Thus, in addition to mixing with other root causes of migration, climate change is increasingly making the journey itself more treacherous.


Research mission in Tijuana, Mexico


HUMSI organized and led a research mission to Tijuana, Mexico in January 2023 with Stanford Law students David Cremins, Charlotte Finegold, Seam Guerin, Vanessa Young Viniegra, Tessa Silverman, Alejandra Soler, and Nathan Tauger with generous support from the SLS Levin Center for Public Service & Public Interest Law. HUMSI director Julia Neusner conducted multiple trainings for student researchers based on her years of experience documenting human rights abuses at the U.S.-Mexico border and interviewing hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers; including trainings on asylum policies, current issues at the U.S.-Mexico border, data documentation, and trauma-informed interview methods.


HUMSI collaborated with IRAP and USCRI to develop and refine interview questions probing the impact of climate change and climate-related disasters on the experiences of people seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. After reviewing these questions with student researchers, HUMSI supervised and directed more than 38 interviews in Tijuana shelters with Guatemalan, Honduran, Mexican, and Salvadoran individuals who intend to seek U.S. asylum.


The research team found that many asylum seekers have experienced devastating climate-related disasters such as hurricanes, droughts, and floods, which exacerbated their conditions of vulnerability. Some interviewees cited the destruction of their homes, agricultural lands, and businesses due to climate-related causes as contributing to their decisions to flee. As illegal border pushback policies make travel increasingly unsafe, many asylum seekers reported encountering climate-related adverse weather as well as violence and extortion as they traveled to the border.

Our Report

HUMSI led research and writing efforts for our final report with USCRI and IRAP. The report details recent climate shocks in Central America and Mexico and provides an overview of protection gaps and recommends policies to improve protection for people displaced in the context of climate change. It includes case examples from our interviews in Tijuana of instances where climate change and climate-related disasters contributed to targeted violence and other persecution driving people to flee their homes, as well as examples of individuals who experienced the adverse impacts of climate change during their journeys to the U.S.-Mexico border.