Immigration is a contentious issue in America, so much so that even seemingly inseparable interest groups find themselves divided. Currently members of the environmental movement, while not in a dispute of Montague/Capulet proportions, are torn between their liberal allegiance and empirical evidence.
According to the Center for Immigration Studies, it is estimated that immigrants to the United States have more children than native born Americans and produce about four times more carbon than they would in their country of origin.
In 2009, Philip Cafaro and Winthrop Staples III published a report which examined the detrimental environmental effects of immigration to the United States, specifically the vast increase in population. “At the current level of 1.5 million immigrants per year, America’s population of 306 million is set to increase to over 700 million people by 2100,” they wrote, indicating that an increase in population would be more of a strain on the ecosystem. “Conversely, scaling back immigration to 200,000 per year would greatly reduce America’s population growth, according to studies by the U.S. Census Bureau.”
“Obviously, we haven’t figured out how to create a sustainable society with 300 million inhabitants. It’s not plausible to think we will be able to do so with two or three times as many people,” the report continued, before concluding, “Americans must choose between allowing continued high levels of immigration and creating a sustainable society.”
If anthropogenic global warming and sustainability are among the central pillars of environmentalism, one would think there would be unanimous opposition to open borders in the environmental community, but the situation is more complex.
Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, explained that as a key part of the liberal community, many environmentalists –who understand that immigration harms the environment — are afraid to take a stand against it because it is not politically correct to do so and it will upset the liberal political establishment.
“You speak to these national environmental leaders off the record and you see all of them realize this, there is not one who doesn’t recognize how important population is to this environmental discussion,” Beck told The Daily Caller. “They know it. But they are fearful of creating interruption and dissension within their own ranks.”
Many environmentalist groups have their hands tied to do or say anything against prevailing immigration talking points due to their alliances with groups supporting immigration reform and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the United States. “None of the national environmental groups want to be the first ones to stick their heads out in this cause,” Beck said. “There is an entire network set up to stifle conversation by calling groups that speak out ‘racist,’ or ‘xenophobic,’ etc. Nobody wants to step out on their own…It shows just how much ideology, political correctness, and fear controls these people.”
The Sierra Club has been a microcosm of this debate. After having faced a number of contentious internal immigration showdowns over the decades, the group is now officially neutral on the issue of immigration.
NEXT: Sierra Club involves itself in border fence debate, despite neutral policy on immigration
The national spokesman for the Sierra Club, Oliver Bernstein, told TheDC that the Sierra Club is more globally focused and more interested in the root causes of migration than immigration reform. “We are working to understand the factors that are forcing people to flee their homelands,” he said. “Is it climate disruption, inequality of resources, political instability?”
Despite a supposedly stringent policy of staying out of immigration wranglings, the Sierra Club did take a very active role in opposing the border fence. “Our members and chapters really encouraged us to get involved in opposing the border fence because they see it as a threat to the habitat due to the infrastructure and roads and lights,” Bernstein said.
Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, questioned the sincerity of those environmentalists who do not support a strict immigration policy. “Now, I’m not persuaded about human-caused global warming. But, if you are – and there’s a lot of smart people who are – then, how can you not be for immigration limitation? In other words, there’s this matter of simple logic and mathematics rather than even the matter of principle, which is something you decide kind of separately.”
Immigrants come to America to improve their standard of living, thereby embracing much of what the green movement decries: cars, air conditioning, plastic baggies, etc. “The whole point to immigrants coming here is to increase their carbon footprint,” Krikorian explained. “That is why they come here. But if your starting point is that that is a problem, how can you justify a national policy that’s significantly increasing it?”
Nick Berning, spokesman for Friends of the Earth, said that it was hypocritical of the United States to keep people out while continuing to produce and pollute more than the rest of the world. To Berning, the solution for global warming is complete carbon cuts across the board to equal out emissions and to bring America more on par with the rest of the world.
Friends of the Earth have been outspoken in their support for immigration reform, marching in rallies and vocally speaking in favor of pro-immigration proposals. According to Berning, attempts to focus on the population and emissions of immigrants is a strategy of the right wing to hijack the environmental movement for their own ends.
“We support immigration reform and I see no reason why Americans have any more reason to pollute more than anyone else,” Berning told TheDC. “The real way to bring down emissions is for those of us in the U.S. to get our own emissions under control, not to try to keep people out.”
Benning conceded that while population was a concern, more important, he said, is keeping individual emissions low and “equitable.”
“Open borders and immigration are an immutable value of the left,” Krikorian concluded. “It doesn’t matter what your particular issue is or your constituency; they have to be sacrificed if their interests conflict with open borders. And you see that with the environmentalists as well as labor, African Americans, feminists, and others.”