From the Climate Crisis to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Our Militarized Budget Fuels Injustice

The United States is the leading carbon emitter in history, responsible for a quarter of cumulative emissions

Rising temperatures create atmospheric patterns that produce more frequent, erratic storms and droughts. These devastating storms destroy communities and their livelihoods while the withering droughts leave lands arid, complicating the cultivation of local-based agriculture and thus life sustainability. 

Exacerbated by interventionist foreign policies and other factors, climate change has increased the number of people forced to migrate from home and made the journey across borders more dangerous.

Human movement is a set and accepted human right.

With Title 42 still in place, however, thousands of Haitian, Central American, and other migrants who’ve lost it all because of global warming calamities are stagnated at the border and unable to seek asylum in the United States.

Enacted by the Trump administration in March 2020, Title 42 scapegoats the COVID-19 pandemic to expel migrants at the southern border without the opportunity to seek asylum or other humanitarian protections. The policy has been extended nine times under the Biden administration, despite sharp criticism from public health and medical experts that note these expulsions lack scientific basis and advocates who urge that asylum is essential.

Along with harmful policies like Title 42, ballooning immigration enforcement budgets treats migrants like threats instead of investing resources in real sources of safety. Taxpayers pay about $24 billion dollars annually to immigration and border enforcement.That senseless amount of money could have instead provided nearly seven million adults with low income health care for a year or it could have funded over 300,000 clean energy jobs for an entire year. 

And it’s not just about misplaced domestic priorities. As we strive to return to pre pandemic normalcy, ensuring worldwide access to the coronavirus vaccine is indispensable. Through global vaccination we can mitigate the spread and propagation of new COVID-19 variants. With a $25 billion investment in vaccine production by the U.S. government, about as much as the United States spends on immigration and border enforcement in a year, we could vaccinate the world. 

In New Mexico, a border state where I’m from, nearly $100 million taxpayer dollars go to immigration and border enforcement annually. New Mexico is one of the poorest states in the country, as reported by Census Bureau 2020 data. That staggering amount of money could have ensured that approximately 3,000 children had head start slots for four consecutive years or provided $2.5 million dollars for coronavirus vaccines. 

This month New Mexico’s Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham called on the National Guard to help fill COVID-19 related staffing shortages in public schools. Last year taxpayers in the state of New Mexico paid over $3 billion for the military. That same amount of money could have funded nearly 7,500 elementary school teachers for five years.

According to recent data, New Mexico has the country’s lowest median family salary, high separation and divorce rates, and amongst the highest child care costs. It ranks as one of the states with the most violent crimes per capita, and as mentioned previously, a state with an extremely high percentage of families in poverty.

There are clear, urgent, and significant needs in my state that ought to be prioritized! It’s critical to start paying attention to what our tax dollars are fueling.

So how are these billions being used and who’s really benefiting? Certainly not taxpayers or migrants.

The demoralizing truth is unsurprising. Large corporations and private contractors like Lockheed Martin and ManTech are just two of the prime contractors with the Department of Homeland Security profiteering off of the plight of refugees. Such corporate conglomerates accrue their wealth from installing and testing cyber security systems, software development and maintenance that increasingly militarizes the southern border. Border surveillance also intensifies reliance on more and more undoubtedly expensive militarized equipment.

As the United States of America continues polluting the atmosphere and adamantly militarizing its border, we'll continue to see cross-border migrations. It’s a true crisis of displacement caused by centuries of environmental racism. Changing our budget priorities is key to repairing these harms. 


Samantha Garcia is the New Mexico Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.