U.S. immigration may rise after Hurricane Irma, U-M report says

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) - 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, there are multiple reasons this happens, including migrants might find it easier to flee destruction in their own country.

Another reason, acording to U-M economists Dean Yang and Parag Mahajan, is they are 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., so if you're looking for somoene to sponsor you, you actually have that opportunity," Mahajan said.

One example of that is Hurricane Cesar hitting Nicaragua in 1996. It caused food shortages, $50.5 million in damage, left 100,000 people homeless and killed 42. 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."

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