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U.S. immigration may rise after Hurricane Irma, study says

Posted at 1:34 PM, Sep 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-11 13:34:53-04

The United States could see an increase in immigrants coming to the country after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, according to new research from the University of Michigan.

According to the study, migrants may find it easier to start over in the United States rather than rebuild from the destruction in their own country.

Another reason, according to U-M economists Dean Yang and Parag Mahajan, is that hurricane refugees able to secure green cards or legal permanent residency through their families already established in the country.

"When there's a bigger stock of previous migrants to the U.S., when someone in their home country is more likely to have a connection to some sort of migrant in the U.S., then the effect of hurricanes on migration is larger," Yang said.

The researchers first studied the severity of a hurricane in a given country, using data from meteorological reports to estimate actual damage.

Yang and Mahajan then analyzed restricted U.S. Census data from 159 counties over 25 years to see if America saw a rise in immigration following large storms in other countries.

The largest effect came from Central America and the Caribbean.

"These regions get hit a lot by hurricanes that cause severe damage, and there are a lot of Central American and Caribbean immigrants in the U.S. If you're looking for somoene to sponsor you, you actually have that opportunity," Mahajan said.

The study cites Hurricane Cesar, which made landfall in Nicaragua in 1996. The hurricane killed 42 people, caused food shortages, $50.5 million in damage, left 100,000 people homeless. Yang and Mahajan found that in 1996 and 1997, there was a 50 percent increase in legal permanent residencies for Nicaraguans than in 1995.

"Much of this increase came from immediate relatives of U.S. citizens — parents, spouses and children," Mahajan added. "Repeated, similar responses like this in the data helped us conclude that networks of U.S. citizens from sending countries provide opportunities for family members to escape severe weather events."