Migration as Reparation: Climate Change and the Disruption of Borders

44 Pages Posted: 18 Nov 2020 Last revised: 7 Feb 2021

See all articles by Carmen G. Gonzalez

Carmen G. Gonzalez

Loyola University Chicago School of Law

Date Written: November 10, 2020


This article examines the legal and moral basis for migration as a form of reparation for the harms inflicted on the states and peoples of the Global South through climate change and through centuries of predatory economic policies. Using Central America migration to the United States as a case study, the article explains that susceptibility to climate change is a function of two variables: exposure and social and economic vulnerability. High-emitting affluent states are disproportionately responsible for Central America’s exposure to climate change due to their historic and current greenhouse gas emissions, their unwillingness to curb these emissions, and their failure to provide adequate adaptation assistance. The United States is responsible for Central America’s social and economic vulnerability due to its history of invasions, coups, military occupations, support for brutal dictatorships, and imposition of damaging economic policies. Climate law scholars have proposed that high-emitting states accept climate-displaced persons into their territory in proportion to each country’s historic contribution to climate change. Migration law scholars have advocated for the admission of so-called “economic migrants” as a form of compensation for the North’s exploitation and domination of the South from the colonial era to the present. This article combines the insights of both group of scholars and argues for migration as a form of reparation for the environmental, social, and economic harms inflicted on the Global South that have undermined its resilience to climate change and have disrupted the lives and livelihoods of its inhabitants. Re-conceptualizing migration as one form of reparation challenges traditional notions of bounded autonomous sovereign states by highlighting the political, ecological, and economic interconnectedness of states and peoples and by calling for policies that recognize this interdependence.

Keywords: migration, reparation, climate change, climate displacement, race, racial capitalism, imperialism, Central America

Suggested Citation

Gonzalez, Carmen G., Migration as Reparation: Climate Change and the Disruption of Borders (November 10, 2020). 66 Loyola Law Review 401-444 (2020) , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3727725

Carmen G. Gonzalez (Contact Author)

Loyola University Chicago School of Law ( email )

25 E. Pearson
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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