OPINION: Mass Immigration or Endangered Species … Pick One

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Quentin Borges-Silva Employee, Environmental Protection Agency
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Around a half-century ago, American politicians created immigration and environmental laws that are inherently at odds with one another. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 set the stage for open borders immigration, while the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 generally prohibits the government from doing things that “take” endangered species.

The problem is, human population size drives demand for development that inevitably fractures natural habitats and leads to “taking” of endangered species. It also leads to ever more species becoming endangered and even extinct as habitat is increasingly fractured across the land. You can have mass immigration or you can protect natural habitats and native species, but you can’t do both simultaneously.

According to Census data, America’s population in 1970 was just over 200 million; today it’s around 328 million and growing. But post-baby boom fertility had been falling since the late 1950s, and birth rates continued to fall through the mid-70s.

It was recently announced that the American total fertility rate has dropped below 2.1 per couple — the replacement rate. Yet the population continues to soar exponentially. The reason for that is demonstrated by a Migration Policy Institute tabulation of Census and other data, showing that the number of immigrants admitted to the United States took a sudden, exponential turn upward in the early 1970s.

The number of newcomers to the United States — both legal and illegal — continues to rise with each passing year. As the population grows, local and state jurisdictions permit the expansion of roadways, retail space, and residential areas. While that might be good for the economy, what if there are endangered species that are being “taken” at the same time? In fact, there are.

Human Population Growth Drives Species to Extinction

Whether or not the ESA and the immigration laws that opened the border are good ideas are irrelevant to my point; both are “the law,” and in a republic that’s based, in part, on the rule of law, both must be enforced. Yet it’s a demonstrable fact that species are being driven to the brink (and beyond) because of immigration laws and policy.

The once fairly ubiquitous rusty patch bumble bee is one of many species now listed as endangered, and the linked Fish and Wildlife Service report makes it clear that in most places, the bees are well on their way to unavoidable extinction. Wildlife biologists don’t say what causes “habitat loss and degradation,” but it’s obvious.

Researchers have been tracking these bees for more than a century, and the map extracted from the linked bumble bee report showing the historical and current range of these bees makes clear how quickly they’re being driven to extinction. There are a lot of Xs showing where there used to be bees, but no more.

Meanwhile, Census Bureau maps of the same area showing human population change over time graphically demonstrate the driver of the “habitat loss and degradation” described in the FWS report: human population growth.

Where there used to be bees, the human population was low. Fast forward a few decades, and where the bees are no longer found, the human population — the primary driver of which is new arrivals from foreign lands — has grown rapidly. Needless to say, where human population is high, so is the demand for roads, parking lots, houses, etc., leaving little habitat for the bees.

Though the ESA includes exemptions that permit the ‘taking’ of protected species for certain purposes, such as national defense, immigration isn’t one of them. Whether you agree with the law or not, it is the law. And in America, the presidential oath includes a vow to faithfully execute it.

Mass Immigration or Endangered Species … Pick One

People on the Left have long claimed to be champions of environmental protection, though it was gun-totin’ hunters who were the original conservationists. Unlike traditional conservationist groups, the preferred tool for accomplishing the goals of left-leaning environmentalist organizations is the court system.

Environmentalist groups regularly sue agencies whose actions impact endangered species, either theoretically or in practice, even if it comes at great cost to people. Think northern spotted owl, delta smelt, or the sage-grouse. But over the same time span, politicians from both major political parties have supported practically unlimited immigration, which is the primary driver of urbanization.

As demonstrated by the rusty patch bumble bee and many other species that are going the way of the dodo, these two areas of law and policy — open borders immigration and endangered species protection — are at fundamental and self-evident odds with each other.

Environmental organizations display their selective outrage when they sue to save endangered species from government actions they don’t like (such as energy development, registering pesticides, or border fencing) while giving a pass to the single biggest driver of habitat loss: urbanization to satisfy the demands of an immigrant and illegal alien-fueled exponential increase in the nation’s human population.

Interestingly, the majority of academic literature and media reporting on the nexus of immigration policy and endangered species is focused on real or potential ‘takings’ caused by border enforcement. This is perhaps not surprising since Marxism-inspired political correctness leads its followers to shriek RACIST! should anyone dare to question open borders immigration, as even self-identified progressives have discovered.

Environmental impact statements and endangered species determinations required to put up fences and other border control structures have been used to argue against the infrastructure, and at least one suit has been filed on behalf of butterflies, fairy shrimp and pocket mice to stop President Trump’s wall-building vision.

The hypocrisy of the Left on this issue is stunning: draped in the mantle of their environmentalist religion, they fight to keep in place the one government policy above all that is driving species extinction. The irony is even more brutal when you consider self-proclaimed environmentalists ostensibly suing on behalf of fairy shrimp and pocket mice along the border.

Should they prevail and force the government to stop wall-building, the ongoing flood of illegal aliens will continue to contribute to the demand for urbanization that will inevitably drive many more endangered species to extinction across the land. In the left’s ‘intersectionality’ contest between environmental protection and open borders, the latter wins out.

If Americans who lean left are sincere in their concern for endangered species and the broader environment, they should ignore the PC bullies and shift their focus to the massive habitat loss and illegal endangered species takings that have been happening for decades all across the nation as a consequence of open borders immigration. If the high priests of environmentalism won’t bring suits against the government to protect endangered species whose habitat is being developed for foreign-born newcomers, maybe right-leaning conservation groups should file suits on endangered species’ behalf.

Maybe the IRS should reconsider the tax-exempt status of environmental non-profits that fight for open borders instead of endangered species. Maybe the president should faithfully execute the Endangered Species Act and end mass immigration. There are many options for how to proceed, but in a contest between open borders immigration and protecting American endangered species from extinction — and you cannot have both — I pick the latter.

Quentin Borges-Silva has worked at the Environmental Protection Agency since 2003. The views expressed by the author are his own and do not reflect policies or positions of the U.S. EPA.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.