Disaster Temporalities, Temporary Protection

Race, Return, and Resilience in Forced (Environmental) Migration from the ‘Greater Caribbean’ to the U.S.


Sarah Earnshaw

Extreme weather events exacerbated by anthropogenic climate change have pushed the question of forced environmental migration, and the resilience capacities of states in the Global South, to the fore. This project will establish an historical analysis of US immigration and deportation policies with regard to migrants from the ‘Greater Caribbean’ following natural catastrophes, taking the contemporary ‘Temporary Protected Status’ as a jumping-off point to interrogate assumptions of mobility, belonging, and preparedness. By opening up the temporalities of environmental migration from the Greater Caribbean to the US, I aim to untangle the relations of forced displacement, colonialism, development, disaster, race, and climate change in their complexity.

To challenge the ahistorical account of a lack of preparedness, this project will combine environmental historical work on the construction and colonial administration of the ‘Greater Caribbean’ with a critical security interrogation on who is considered ’insurable life’ and what is ‘legitimate’ climate adaptation, both deeply embedded in developmental logics. I will refer to the new mobilities paradigm and biopolitical critiques on the control of ‘bad’ circulations, where environmental migration is a flow that must be managed. When and why were ‘natural disasters’ introduced into US immigration discourse; how has disaster displacement been conceptualized within humanitarian and development strategies, thereby intertwined with cultural, social, racial, political, and economic factors of (im)mobility? Given the spate of recent terminations of TPS by Homeland Security, and the resulting legal challenges, how long is a temporary emergency? Underpinned by a baseline of natural disaster, we can look toward a past of colonial exploitation, appropriation, and mismanagement, the present of left-behind or temporary protection, and the potential futures of resilience, deportation, or forced ‘return’.