Climate Visas Could Be Part of Immigration Process, Students Say

By Kardelen Koldas ’15
June 10, 2019

Two first-year students, Andrew Ordentlich ’22 and Alex Ozols ’22, were awarded first place for their proposal to introduce climate visas to the United States at the inaugural Goldfarb Center Freedom of Expression Symposium.

“We chose to focus on climate visas because we feel like it’s a very important aspect of immigration, throughout the world really, [that] is yet to be focused on and we’re running out of time,” said Ordentlich during the presentation.

Ordentlich and Ozols were among several students who competed at the Goldfarb Center Freedom of Expression Symposium May 5 to win up to $2,000 for their policy proposals on immigration—this year’s theme. The symposium’s goal is to generate conversation across political lines on a selected topic each year. The judges—Associate Provost and Dean of Faculty Russell Johnson, immigration attorney Courtney New ’02, Guidehouse consultants Ashley Gutwein and Lisa Kaplan ’13—selected four teams out of eight for the final round.

Ordentlich and Ozols talked about how climate change is causing Central Americans to leave their land and migrate to the U.S. They proposed creating a similar system to that of New Zealand’s Pacific Access Category Resident Visa Program. However, they built on this program to make it more applicable to the United States.

They envisioned a quota of 5,000 climate visas per year to those from Central America; this cap would increase by 10 percent each year until 2050. Their proposal also included mitigation efforts to combat climate change, such as creating a climate consulting group as part of the Environmental Protection Agency, rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, and supporting renewable-energy initiatives. For farmers staying in Central America, they came up with adaptation measures, such as partnering with NGOs and establishing early warning systems about incoming weather conditions.

“It would be great if we provide a solution now when we have time to think about these things before the problem really occurs,” said Ozols as they concluded their presentation.

Ryan McClennen ’22 presented a different take on how to decrease immigration from the Northern Triangle—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. He argued that since immigration from these countries is violence-driven rather than economic, the U.S. and the Northern Triangle need to work together towards a solution. While admitting his idea would be controversial, he proposed to legalize gang membership (not activity) as well as to increase American aid to fund small-business loans and workforce reintegration training.

Erik Tacam-Tzunun ’21 and Mellanie Charar ’21 suggested expanding the U.S. government’s current definition of political asylum. Recognizing other forms of persecution, like gang violence, kidnapping, and torture, the two proposed broadening this definition, especially for those from the Northern Triangle to be able to seek asylum.

The proposal by Lukas Alexander ’22 offered to use Integrated Fixed Towers, which are equipped with cameras that can monitor hundreds of square miles, all along the border for security. A few years ago he saw this system in use in Arizona and believed that it can be an advanced alternative to building a wall.

“Everybody clearly grounded their ideas and their proposals in substantive research,” said Kaplan. “A lot of people have firsthand experience, and I think that also speaks to the level of passion about this issue.”