State of Disaster

The Failure of U.S. Migration Policy in an Age of Climate Change

By Maria Cristina Garcia

256 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 8 halftones, 3 maps, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6996-0
    Published: September 2022
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6995-3
    Published: September 2022
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6997-7
    Published: August 2022
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6151-1
    Published: August 2022

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Awards & distinctions

Honorable Mention, 2023 Theodore Saloutos Book Prize, Immigration and Ethnic History Society

A 2023 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Natural disasters and the dire effects of climate change cause massive population displacements and lead to some of the most intractable political and humanitarian challenges seen today. Yet, as Maria Cristina Garcia observes in this critical history of U.S. policy on migration in the Global South, there is actually no such thing as a "climate refugee" under current U.S. law. Most initiatives intended to assist those who must migrate are flawed and ineffective from inception because they are derived from outmoded policies. In a world of climate change, U.S. refugee policy simply does not work.

Garcia focuses on Central America and the Caribbean, where natural disasters have repeatedly worsened poverty, inequality, and domestic and international political tensions. She explains that the creation of better U.S. policy for those escaping disasters is severely limited by the 1980 Refugee Act, which continues to be applied almost exclusively for reasons of persecution directly related to politics, race, religion, and identity. Garcia contends that the United States must transform its outdated migration policies to address today's realities. Climate change and natural disasters are here to stay, and much of the human devastation left in their wake is essentially a policy choice.

About the Author

Maria Cristina Garcia is Howard A. Newman Professor of American Studies and professor of history at Cornell University. Her most recent book is The Refugee Challenge in Post–Cold War America.
For more information about Maria Cristina Garcia, visit the Author Page.


"This book is critical for understanding how climate change intersects with hemispheric political history and regional inequality to increase immediate suffering in the wake of natural disasters and undermine longer-term safety and security. . . . Essential."—CHOICE

"A forthright work of research and witness . . . State of Disaster is a learned and fervent exposé that holds out hope that impacts can 'be minimized with strategic planning, sustainable practices, and responsible, accountable and transparent governance.'"—Foreword Reviews

"Garcia’s study is a welcome addition to the discipline. . . . The research is timely in that it centers climate change as a push factor, differentiating it from previous studies and providing a framework and methodology for subsequent research in this area."—Ethnic and Racial Studies

State of Disaster provides concrete examples to illustrate the intricate challenges of displacement caused by disasters and the shortcomings of existing policies. As a result, it significantly contributes to existing research on migration driven by environmental and climate change. This timely book will be appreciated by students, scholars and practitioners interested in understanding how ad hoc policies and recovery efforts fall short of addressing the growing challenges of the climate crisis.”—International Migration

"Crisp, elegant, and concise. This compelling book deals expertly with the increasing problems of climate change–induced migration in the United States and the political and humanitarian challenges such migration raises within and across borders. Reveals how climate change affects people's daily lives and often leads to massive disruptions in their places of settlement, their livelihoods, and their identities."—Jorge Duany, author of Blurred Borders

"Garcia is a leading historian of displaced and mobile populations from Latin America and the Caribbean to the United States. Here, she applies serious and timely historical treatment to the important intersection of climate change and migration. With its clear, accessible writing and a new thematic approach to the region's history of migration, this book will be eagerly adopted in classrooms."—Mark Overmyer-Velazquez, editor of Beyond la Frontera