Author ORCID Identifier


Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Michael Fix

Second Advisor

Jelena Subotic

Third Advisor

Charles Hankla

Fourth Advisor

Anna O. Law


International and domestic law does not recognize climate change as a valid reason to receive asylum. In the absence of legal protections, domestic courts can play a pivotal role in extending asylum protections to those fleeing the effects of environmental disasters. This research project aims to identify and explain the mechanism that allows the extension of rights protections for asylum seekers outside the traditional refugee definition. Specifically, the project asks what national political conditions allow domestic courts to extend asylum protection and which individual judge characteristics influence case outcomes and indirectly impact asylum policy? To answer these questions, I developed a unique theory using Australia and New Zealand’s refugee status determination (RSD) regimes as theory-building case studies. I focus on climate-related asylum appeals in each country’s respective RSD regime. I contend that the mechanism allowing for the extension of rights protections functions as a policy window within refugee status determination (RSD) regimes. The policy window opens at the administrative level of the regime. Whether decision-makers take advantage of the open policy window depends on the insulation level an administrative agency enjoys from broader immigration policies. To test the theory, I use the U.S. as a test case, focusing on Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and the U.S. Courts of Appeal.


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