Two Views

Melanie Mitsue Okamoto, campaign organizer, Political Ecology Group:

In the past decade, the anti-immigrant lobby, which includes groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Carrying Capacity Network, has jumped on the “green” bandwagon to invent a new form of scapegoating that targets immigrants as a cause of our environmental problems. These groups simplistically equate immigration with overpopulation, and blame immigrants for everything from logging to urban sprawl.

The anti-immigrant and population control extremists miss the big picture. Immigration is a symptom of growing economic and environmental instability, not the cause. Many families are forced to migrate because of impoverished living conditions caused by political and social unrest in their homelands. Multinational business interests often displace local communities by destroying natural resources and polluting local lands without regard for environmental protections.

Let’s not be fooled: restricting immigration isn’t going to solve our environmental problems. Looking at sheer numbers of people is a misleading way to measure environmental impact. And targeting immigrants only lets the real culprits off the hook, while fostering anti-immigrant sentiment that hurts us all.

Roy Beck, public speaker, author of The Case Against Immigration, and director, NumbersUSA:

It’s true that whatever steps you take to improve the behavior of multinational corporations, developers and individuals makes a big difference for the environment. But it’s a plain fact that our country’s natural resources would be much better off with 270 million, the population now, than with 400 million, the estimated population in 2050 based on one million new immigrants per year.

Let’s look at the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, where I live. We’re part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, one of the largest and most important estuaries in the world. It’s in dire condition, caused almost entirely by the people who live here. The problem comes from sewage treatment overflows, from sedimentation, from development, and from the relentless buildup of traffic. We’ve added several million people to the area in the last 30 years, and we’re projected to add millions more in the next few decades under current immigration policies. Quite simply, the majority of additional population in the Washington, D.C. area is composed of immigrants and their children. Nationally, immigrants and their children make up 70 percent of population growth.

Of course, population is a global problem, and I fully support U.S. family planning support for those countries that desperately want it. But every country has to control its borders. Polls show that 65 million Indians want to come here. Do we let them all in? If we did, our environment would be quickly destroyed. I’m not scapegoating the individual immigrants already in this country. In fact, because high immigration levels suppress wages, limiting future numbers is one of the nicest things we could do for those new Americans, as well as for the impoverished populations around the world that constantly lose some of their best leaders through the immigration brain drain.