Proposal and drawings produced in partnership with Makio Yamamoto and Sebastian Bernal
Honorable Mention in "React" category of the 2021 Warming Competition
The “great climate migration” is inevitable, and the border between the United States and Mexico will destabilize with the tremendous influx of refugees. Within the next 25-50 years, the number of Latin American refugees traveling to the United States could increase from the hundreds of thousands to millions. Most of these asylum seekers are sustenance farmers who are stripped of the opportunity to cultivate crops due to sudden storms and droughts. In Guatemala, for example, there may be a 60% decrease in rainfall and a 83% decrease in water replenishing the streams that keep the soil moist for cultivation.
Demonstrating extreme ecological, political, and cultural tensions are the twin border cities of Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico, currently transepts for immigrants, climate refugees, and asylum seekers. These sister cities are separated by the Rio Grande River. Thousands of people hoping to cross the border wait in ill-planned, densely packed migrant camps with scant resources, while thousands more are dispelled back. In 2020, roughly 81-87% of applications from U.S. asylum seekers, who are predominantly from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico, were denied entry. Meanwhile, rising sea-levels from the Gulf of Mexico in the east and major droughts directly threaten the coastal prairie ecosystem and vital cropland of the region. As a practical and ethical necessity, both countries must cooperatively respond and avoid a humanitarian crisis. The border must be understood as a fluid ecosystem, rather than a rigid political axis dividing North and South America.
The dire sitaution at the border requires a radical re-imagining. The Green Border Act proposes a “Special Ecological Zone” (SEZ) at the border designated for the housing of climate refugees and the rehabilitation of farmland. In this proposal, housing is intermixed with farm plots that are granted to incoming refugees to allow them to settle the area and to apply their expertise as farmers. The fields are irrigated through desalination plants on the American side of the border that draw and treat saltwater from the port of Brownsville. After treatment, freshwater is distributed through a series of pipes and water towers. The plants are powered by arrays of solar energy on the Mexican side of the border, which dictate the logistical capacity of the desalination infrastructure. As part of the Green Border Act:
“Energy supply to the desalination plants in the jurisdiction of the United States is commensurate to the flow of asylum seekers into the project’s housing and work program. This rate will follow at a 1 TW per 1,000 refugee rate for the first 10 years of the Special Ecological Zone. Additional energy will be provided upon the number of residents subject to the naturalization process into the United States.”
As more immigrants are allowed into the SEZ, the greater amount of energy is provided to the desalination infrastructure. This in turn increases the productivity and capacity of the cropland in the zone, as well as the number of refugees who can reside within the project. The SEZ expands according to the rate of cooperation between the US and Mexico, playing off the needs of both countries amidst a climate crisis. Splitting the necessary infrastructure to maintain and expand the SEZ between the US and Mexico incentivizes the US to alter its attitude to climate immigration by outsourcing the power grid required to maintain the irrigation efforts in Brownsville. Additionally, Mexico is provided with hitherto unrealized political and infrastructural agency along the border.
A new economy of reciprocity is established to blur the rigid lines between countries and to create new communities that bring the Americas closer together. The Green Border Act seeks to write a Pan-American identity whose borders act as living ecosystems that will stitch us together in the face of global climate change.