Hurricane LauraIt was the strongest storm to strike Louisiana since U.S. record-keeping began in the summer 2020. For 42-year-old Angel Argueta Anariba, it was the beginning of a period of misery: the first of three major storms to hit Central Louisiana’s Catahoula Correctional Center, where he was detained.
More than 20 years earlier, another climate catastrophe had upended Argueta Anariba’s life. In November 1998, he fled Honduras following Hurricane Mitch. He found himself in Louisiana facing new climate nightmares and no escape plan.
Argueta Anariba was held in a privately-run facility. Several new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Louisiana facilities. The implications of caging thousands of people in a state that’s notorious for extreme weather crystallized with the intensifying wind.
In the days that followed the storm’s landfall, detainees All the state would endure appalling conditions caused in no small part by ICE’s lack of preparedness for climate disasters. An Intercept investigation found that more than half of ICE’s detention facilities, including Catahoula, are already facing significant climate risks.
“Climate change has already exacerbated extreme weather conditions, and we are seeing a direct impact on incarcerated people warehoused in immigration detention facilities across the country,” said Karla Ostolaza, managing director of the immigration practice at the Bronx Defenders, a public defense group that is representing Argueta Anariba. “We are very concerned that more extreme weather events caused by climate change will lead to further exploitation and disregard for detained immigrants at ICE facilities.”
According to Argueta Anariba’s court affidavit, the lights went out on August 26 as Hurricane Laura ravaged the Catahoula facility. The services were unavailable for five days. The ground was covered with several inches of water. The dorm felt over 100 degrees with the air conditioner down. In the first days, facility employees brought in a few gallons to drink, twice a day, for more than 50 people.
“The toilets would not flush during this time, and some people were forced to defecate on the trays that they gave us for meals and then throw those in the trash,” Argueta Anariba said, adding that with staff avoiding the dorms, garbage piled up. Argueta Anariba felt sick from the stench, which also aggravated his asthma. “The smell was excruciating.”
2020 will be here soon Record setFor the number of hurricanes which pounded into the continental U.S. Within weeks, another storm brought wind and rain to the Catahoula facility.
Evacuees from other facilities were bused directly to the detention center. Tensions were high at the prison’s overcrowded cells. Argueta Anariba claimed that a pepper spray-like substance had been used frequently to manage the crowd. “I could not breathe and vomited several times,” he said. “My face felt like it was burning.”
The electricity went out again after a third storm, but the heat was less severe, making the situation more bearable.
“In the three hurricanes that passed,” said Argueta Anariba, who is undocumented, “I lived the worst part of my life.”
The Next Disaster
The past decade has given rise to the notion of the “climate migrant,” a term that describes people like Argueta Anariba who are forced to leave their nation because of a climate-related disaster. The climate crisis means that the number of migrants to the U.S. will increase in the coming years. According to an analysis by, 680,000 climate migrants will cross the U.S.-Mexico frontier between now and 2050. ProPublica Magazine and New York Times Magazine.
“I traveled with many people who came from Honduras, escaping from the destruction that was the country,” Argueta Anariba told The Intercept in Spanish. “They’re still in this country, continuing forward, working to get ahead.”
Some climate migrants are forced to end their journey when they become entangled in the U.S. Immigration Enforcement System. Many will end up in detention centres that are, according to an Intercept investigation, particularly vulnerable to climate risk.
The Intercept mapped over 6,500 prisons and detention centers against heat and wildfire and flood risk to determine how climate change impacts those in jail. According to UCLA research, ICE detainees were being held in 128 facilities by 2020. The Intercept lists 72 immigration detention centers. Recognized as facing significant climate-related threats — risks that are poised to get more severe as the climate crisis deepens. (ICE did not provide answers to The Intercept’s questions for this article.)
The U.S. refugee agency generally does not consider climate disaster a reason to grant asylum. In cases of environmental catastrophes, the Department of Homeland Security, ICE’s parent agency, has the power to designate a country for temporary protected status, a program that allows some of its citizens to temporarily live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation.
This designation is however rarely used. For instance, the program was not made available to Hondurans fleeing Honduras following the destruction of the country by hurricanes Eta in 2020. Onerous conditions can make it difficult for those who are seeking protections from TPS. After Hurricane Mitch, Hondurans were afforded TPS status, but Argueta Anariba didn’t qualify in part because of a criminal conviction, his lawyer said.
If U.S. immigration policies remain restrictive, climate migrants will be more likely to end up in detention centers. Without either new investments in infrastructure or a rethinking of U.S. immigration policies, detained migrants will be facing worsening climate risks — this time without the chance to flee.
Prisons at Risk
There are no states with more ICE detention centres than Texas and Louisiana, which are both prone to severe weather. All of the Texas immigration detention centers, including 10 in Louisiana, and 19 in Texas, are located in counties with an average heat index above 90 degrees for more than 100 days each year. These temperatures can cause heatstroke in areas without medical care and air conditioning that is often not working.
ICE’s Detention standards include only vague references to maintaining comfortable temperatures and offering climate-appropriate clothing, and advocates say there’s minimal enforcement. Extreme heat is already a problem in the Northeast, even though it’s much cooler. Dangerous conditions. “ICE frequently exposes people in their custody to extreme heat conditions without air conditioning in the summer and freezing temperatures without adequate heat in the winter — leading to increased health risks among the people we represent,” said Ostolaza, of the Bronx Defenders.
It’s going to get worse, according to county-by-county heat projections from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Historically, no ICE detention centers were in counties where heat spiked above 105 degrees for more than a month annually — a level of heat the National Weather Service designates as dangerous. The county in which Catahoula is situated is likely to experience nearly two months of heat above 105 degrees by 2100. Every ICE detention facility across the country will experience longer periods of high heat.
Already, poor infrastructure is failing in the face of climate-related snowballing problems. According to data from First Street Foundation, Catahoula has a low flood risk. Additionally, the flood waters that came in during Hurricane Laura probably had more to do structural problems than flood vulnerability. ICE detention centers’ climate control systems are known for breaking down; Sommer after Sommer, public defenders have demanded that ICE address air-conditioning failures in a detention center in northern New Jersey.
Many advocates for immigrant rights feel that the climate emergency is a call to action to implement systemic changes that go far beyond fixing buildings. “If we can foresee that these facilities are going to need infrastructure reworking, it’s a good sign that we need to end detention centers as a whole,” said Dagoberto Bailón, a coordinator for Trans Queer Pueblo, an Arizona-based OrganisationThis works well with LGBTQ+ migrants.
ICE may increase detention in certain cases, especially for facilities that are more risky. Folkston ICE Processing Center in Georgia FacesSevere WildfireYet, there is risk in the expansion that would make it One of the largestICE detention facilities throughout the country, increasing its bed count from 780 up to 3,018.
However, organizers have won victories. The Hudson County Correctional Facility in New Jersey is at extreme flood risk. FloodedSuperstorm Sandy, 2012. As of November 2012, Under pressureThe facility no longer holds ICE detainees.
Climate Crisis and ICE
ICE is also preparing for the future. The Department of Homeland Security has begun to evaluate detention facilities for climate risks and is gearing up for the next migrant influx.
“Catastrophic events, such as floods, wildfires, and extreme drought, may prompt mass migration which has the capacity to overrun DHS facilities and infrastructure supporting the Nation’s immigration system,” the agency wrote in its Climate Action Plan, Published in October 2021. “Climate change is likely to increase population movements from Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean and impact neighboring countries.”
DHS has listed increased migration as one its top five climate vulnerability, but its climate action program is sparse on details about what it will do. According to the climate report officials at DHS are working to create a plan that can predict and plan for future waves in mass migration. This may lead to more detention and arrests. “Increases in human migration may require more resources and operational capacity at the U.S. border to facilitate the application of immigration law, including the law governing claims for humanitarian protection,” DHS wrote.
And DHS is aware that many of its facilities could be at climate risk: “This risk could require relocating or even abandoning current infrastructure in certain circumstances,” the report says, calling for incorporating climate resiliency when expanding the detention infrastructure.
Until now, a main factor that ICE had used to choose where to locate detention centers was local communities’Forcibles must be able to boost their economies. Louisiana is an example. Criminal justice reformsThis led to fewer people being kept in prisons or jails, creating economic gaps that were filled with new ICE contracts.
To Trans Queer Pueblo’s Bailón, it’s all part of a pattern that needs to be broken. “The U.S. is really good at solving problems by trying to put people away,” he said. “Investing in people looks like investing in other countries, investing in migration and having the means to have a smooth migration process, rather than having these detention centers where abuses happen.”
Argueta Anariba was a child in Honduras. He would spend four hours per day at school and eight hours harvesting and planting crops. He loved his classes, especially math, but he also appreciated learning at his father’s side in the fields. From an early age, he knew that a poor harvest meant going to bed hungry. Climate-driven drought is pushing many Honduran farmers to the edge today. In Argueta Anariba’s case, it was a storm.
Hurricane Mitch roared through Argueta Anariba’s community when he was 20. “We lost everything: property and land, jobs, crops,” he remembered. He had two small children by then. “The government didn’t have capacity to help all the people that were affected. Due to the situation, I traveled to the United States to try to support my family.”
After crossing through Guatemala and Mexico, Argueta Anariba arrived in Washington, D.C., joining a tight-knit group of Hondurans from his area.
After he demanded payment for a job, his problems with ICE started. Argueta Anariba’s employer responded by threatening him, he said. In the weeks that followed, the conflict escalated until, according to Argueta Anariba, one of his former boss’s friends — who had gang ties — pulled a knife. Argueta Anariba stabbed his boss in self-defense, he claims. He spent seven years in prison, before being placed in ICE custody.
Argueta Anariba could not be released while he waited for his asylum case to be decided by the government, according to an immigration judge. By now, he has been in ICE detention — which is not supposed to be punitive — for seven years, a period equal to his prison term.
Last winter, he was subject to another climate change-related disaster. Louisiana’s sudden cold snap left him in detention. Inadequate heat.
Despite it all, going to Honduras isn’t an option. Although a climate disaster drove Argueta Anariba to migrate, his asylum plea isn’t about a storm. While he was in prison, masked men broke into his mother’s home and beat her, demanding to know when Argueta Anariba would return to Honduras. Argueta Anariba believes that if he returns to Honduras, he will be assassinated by his Washington attackers because he cannot rely on the protection of a corrupt Honduran government.
Argueta Anariba could be released from confinement in the next weeks. This is the first time Argueta Anariba has been freed since more than 14 years. A judge will decide if Argueta Anariba should remain in confinement until his immigration case is resolved.
More than anything, Argueta Anariba wants to be there for his kids again, the youngest of whom are U.S. citizens. “To be my own boss is my dream, and also I wish to help the community, to serve on some public projects. I would like to be part of pro-migrant organizations,” he said. “Maybe it’s for that reason that I’ve had to suffer and overcome some obstacles, if in the future I have the chance to get out and to show the public that we deserve one more opportunity.”