Climate Migrant Policy with Janet Napolitano

By Danielle Elliott and Isabel Lyndon

Unpredictable weather patterns, crop disease, unstable governments–all of these symptoms of climate change are pushing North and Central Americans northward to find economic opportunity and safety. President Biden recently addressed this rising influx of climate migrants to the United States by issuing an executive order stipulating a humane, comprehensive framework to address the root causes of migration such as “improving governance and the rule of law, fighting against corruption and impunity, addressing climate drivers of migration, and respecting human rights.”

Biden’s stance is a continuation of Obama-era immigration policy, shaped in part by Janet Napolitano, the acting Secretary of Homeland Security from 2009-13. During her time in that position, climate change was already compelling North and Central Americans to move north. In response, Napolitano advocated for a foreign policy agenda that emphasized long-term economic and agricultural development in places where local crops were destroyed as a result of diseases related to climate change. 

Napolitano was the first woman and the overall fourth person to hold the position of Secretary of Homeland Security. 

Resources on climate migration and population shifts:


Ethan: How can U.S. foreign policy help address the challenges of climate migrants? This is Ethan Elkind of Climate Break. As the Earth continues to warm. Food insecurity and drought are pushing residents from Central American countries north. While acting as Secretary of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2013, former University of California President Janet Napolitano addressed this rising influx of climate migrants by emphasizing long term economic and agricultural development in places where local crops were destroyed. 

Ms. Napolitano: They lost their means of producing income due to this disease that was a product of climate change. Really, what needed to happen was investment by the United States in those countries to help restore the economy, to help those small farmers get income, so that they could remain on the land. 

Ethan: Many of the policies she helped craft under the Obama administration were terminated under President Trump. Napolitano now recommends that President Biden resume sending aid to Central American countries to reduce the incidence of people fleeing northward. 

Ms. Napolitano: So to do that, they’re going to have to deal with the root causes. Climate is not the only cause. Violence is a cause. Government instability is a cause. So with the injection of funds from the United States, we really focus on those three areas. 

Ethan: For more climate policy solutions from Janet Napolitano and others, go to or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Climate Migrant Policy with Janet Napolitano