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U.S. won’t take climate refugees displaced by Hurricane Dorian

President Trump’s ongoing war on migrants and refugees has extended to the Bahamas, where some residents say they’ve received little to no help from their own government after Hurricane Dorian absolutely devastated the area less than two weeks ago. The storm, which hit the islands as a Category 5 hurricane, killed at least 50 people (though that number is expected to rise, as more than 1,000 people are still missing).

While the United States has granted temporary protected status, or TPS, to natural disaster victims in the past, the Trump administration has decided not to extend the designation to Bahamas residents who were displaced by the monster storm. That means Bahamians can still travel to the U.S. temporarily if they have a travel visa, but they will not be granted work permits.

TPS is a form of humanitarian relief intended for people from designated countries where war, famine, natural disaster, or other crises make it difficult for people to return home safely. People with TPS can generally stay in the U.S. for a period ranging from six and 18 months, but the Department of Homeland Security can extend this time if conditions in their home country remain unstable. Those protected under TPS are granted work permits, allowing them to support themselves while living in the U.S. Created by the Immigration Act of 1990, TPS has protected immigrants from 22 countries at various times.

“Generally, under circumstances like this really catastrophic hurricane … TPS would be granted,” the Migration Policy Institute’s Doris Meissner told the Washington Post. The U.S. has over the years offered TPS to residents of Haiti and Nepal after earthquakes devastated those countries in 2010 and 2015 respectively, as well as in South Sudan and Venezuela following armed conflicts in those countries. In the late 1990s, Honduras and Nicaragua were designated for TPS after Hurricane Mitch killed more than 11,000 people in Central America.

One of the Trump administration’s main immigration goals has been to overhaul how the U.S. grants legal immigration status. It envisions a “merit-based” immigration system in which individual immigrants are selected based on their education level, relevant professional skills, and financial self-sufficiency. But critics say the administration is setting the bar so high that many Americans couldn’t pass it.

Trump’s goal of limiting legal immigration has run afoul of many longstanding U.S. immigration policies, but TPS might be the biggest affront to his vision of merit-based entry. Not only does the program extend legal protections to people who want to enter the U.S. based entirely on what’s happening in their home countries, but it also applies to people, whether they are tourists or undocumented immigrants, who are already in the U.S. when TPS is granted. As such, it came as no surprise to some humanitarian workers in Washington that this administration would not be continuing the tradition of offering a temporary home to Bahamians fleeing the storm.

The impacts of Trump’s new TPS approach will likely extend far beyond the hurricane season. As climate change continues to increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, it’s likely that ever-larger numbers of environmental refugees will be forced to leave their homes behind in search of safety. According to a new report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, for example, 7 million people worldwide were displaced by natural disasters in the first six months of 2019 — “the highest mid-year figure ever reported for displacements associated with disasters.” But with the White House closing off avenues for migrants hoping for respite in the U.S., those climate refugees will see their options shrink just as they need help the most.

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U.S. won’t take climate refugees displaced by Hurricane Dorian

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NOAA picked Trump over science. Here’s why that’s a big deal.

Hurricane Dorian has come and gone, but the irrevocable upheaval it brought on the Bahamas continues. In Washington, a different kind of debacle is brewing in Dorian’s aftermath.

On Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued an unsigned statement that defended President Trump’s baseless assertion that Hurricane Dorian would hit Alabama “(much) harder than anticipated.” Trump originally made the claim in a tweet on Sunday, September 1, and has continued to try to justify it on Twitter and with a doctored hurricane map in the week since. NOAA’s statement also rebuked the National Weather Service’s Birmingham division for contradicting the president in a tweet that clarified, “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”

“From Wednesday, August 28, through Monday, September 2, the information provided by NOAA and the National Hurricane Center to President Trump and the wider public demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama,” read NOAA’s statement. “The Birmingham National Weather Service’s Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.” The New York Times is reporting that political officials at NOAA put out the statement after Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross threatened to fire them.

The unsigned statement — along with an earlier internal directive telling NOAA staffers not to “provide any opinion” on Trump’s tweet — seems to have set off a firestorm within the agency. NOAA’s acting chief scientist, Craig McLean, is investigating whether the agency’s response to Trump’s claims about Hurricane Dorian constituted a violation of policies and ethics, according to the Washington Post. And the head of the National Weather Service, which is part of NOAA, publicly defended the Birmingham forecasters at a meeting of the National Weather Association.

For NOAA scientists, and meteorologists outside the federal agency, the organization’s apparent willingness to bend the truth for political reasons undermines their integrity.

“This is the first time I’ve felt pressure from above to not say what truly is the forecast. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around,” said a meteorologist the Post spoke with on the condition of anonymity. “One of the things we train on is to dispel inaccurate rumors and ultimately that is what was occurring — ultimately what the Alabama office did is provide a forecast with their tweet, that is what they get paid to do.”

Elbert Friday, the former director of the National Weather Service, went even further, calling the unsigned statement “deplorable” in a public statement on Facebook: “This rewriting history to satisfy an ego diminishes NOAA.”

For some meteorologists, NOAA’s independence is a matter not only of scientific integrity but of life and death. The agency’s statement is “concerning as it compromises the ability of NOAA to convey life-saving information necessary to avoid substantial and specific danger to public health and safety,” McLean wrote in an email to NOAA employees obtained by the Post. If people stop trusting NOAA to provide unbiased forecasts during severe weather events, the thinking goes, the confusion could put them at physical risk.

After all, as Brian McNoldy, senior research associate at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School, told to BuzzFeed News: “There’s enough uncertainty in a hurricane forecast as it is. We don’t need to introduce a whole lot more.”

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NOAA picked Trump over science. Here’s why that’s a big deal.

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As Hurricane Dorian aid stalls, frustrated Bahamians take relief into their own hands

When the floodwaters of Hurricane Dorian receded, Crystal deGregory decided it was safe to step out of her mom’s home in Grand Bahama. Driving around, she spotted people drying out their drenched belongings, while others rummaged through the rubble and what was left of their homes after the catastrophe.

Hurricane Dorian is tied for the most powerful Atlantic hurricane to make landfall on record, after battering the Bahamas with up to 220 mph winds for 40 hours straight last weekend. As of Friday morning, Hurricane Dorian’s official death toll was at 30, but thousands are still missing, and the islands’ health minister has warned that the final death count will be “staggering.”

The material devastation is staggering, too. According to a report by the insurance agency Karen Clark & Company, the Category 5 storm could cost the Bahamas a total of $7 billion in insured and uninsured losses.

As the death toll rises and Bahamians await food, water, and other supplies, there is a growing sense of frustration toward government officials. “The government is doing what governments do, what they think is best regardless of whether or not it is,” DeGregory, a historian and writer, told Grist. “But when you don’t tell the complete truth, you erode public trust.”

In the absence of a coordinated government response, many Bahamians, including deGregory, have turned to social media for help, promoting GoFundMe campaigns, looking for missing persons, and sharing information about available resources. “I’ve long been on Twitter to raise awareness on important issues,” deGregory, whose tweets summarizing the state of affairs in the Northern Bahamas went viral on Friday. “Today’s advocacy is for the most important issue, and that is human lives.”

Although Hurricane Dorian damaged electricity networks on Grand Bahama and Abaco islands, most phone networks have been restored since the storm subsided. And as one of the few people with any signal during the storm, she immediately turned to social media so that “people can be aware of what is happening in the Bahamas, and that it encourages them to give us aid.” For the past week, DeGregory has using her Twitter account to signal-boost other Bahamanians’ requests for aid, on-the-ground reports, complaints about government inaction, and expressions of strength and resilience

“Social media can be used for noble causes,” deGregory said. “The Bahamas is a great example of this. Other nations will be wise to learn from this, even if it was a painful example.”

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As Hurricane Dorian aid stalls, frustrated Bahamians take relief into their own hands

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Trump’s Hurricane Dorian map looks doctored with a Sharpie. We might know why.

The forecast maps that the National Hurricane Center produces can be confusing. What they attempt to show is a range of possible paths a storm’s center could take over the next few days. Presented without that context, it’s no surprise some people think the maps show hurricanes growing larger over time, or that they show all the areas that could conceivably be under threat. (In fact, people living outside the “cone of uncertainty” are still at risk.) Visual journalist Alberto Cairo recently explained what the cone means in a fascinating interactive for the New York Times that’s very much worth your time.

Donald Trump, surprisingly, seems to understand exactly what the cone of uncertainty means. He just doesn’t agree with the meteorologists whose job it is to know whatever is humanly possible to know about hurricanes.

If you were online Labor Day weekend, you may have seen Trump tweet about Hurricane Dorian, which had recently ravaged the Bahamas and was heading toward the East Coast. “In addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated,” he wrote in a now-deleted tweet. There was only one problem: Dorian was not, in fact, forecast to hit Alabama. To clear up any confusion, the National Weather Service office in Birmingham tweeted a fact-check:

But on Wednesday Trump had the last word, as Trump is wont to do. In a video update on Hurricane Dorian filmed in the Oval Office, Trump presented a probability map for Dorian that, lo and behold, showed the hurricane potentially moving toward Alabama. What accounted for this unexpected change of forecast? Well, Trump, or someone on his staff, had amended the map’s cone of uncertainty in what appeared to be Sharpie.

“It was going toward the Gulf, that was what was originally projected,” Trump explained with a straight face as he gestured toward the altered map, “and it took a right turn.” Ah yes, the massive hurricane took a sharp right turn! That’s a much more plausible scenario than a scientifically illiterate president making a mistake in a hastily composed tweet.

According to the Washington Post, Trump repeatedly said “I don’t know” when asked if the map had been doctored. Credit where credit is due — a man who’s not afraid to admit it when he doesn’t know something is a man worthy of our admiration.

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Trump’s Hurricane Dorian map looks doctored with a Sharpie. We might know why.

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