Time to Clear the Air on Immigration

It seems to me that if we are to have a useful debate about immigration and the environment we need parties to the discussion who have some depth of analysis—or who are willing to talk about it at all. Right now we don’t seem to have either.

Anti-immigration folks like to rattle off stats about rampant sprawl, traffic growth, increasing emissions—and anecdotes like our “paving over an area the size of Delaware every year”—and then conclude that it is all due to immigration.

Funny, but I do not see very many Latinos driving luxury SUVs or living large in McMansions. And we certainly have many environmental problems in areas of the U.S. that are not primary destinations for newcomers. Yes, first generations born to immigrants will likely emulate the excesses of the lifestyle we Americans think we are entitled to, but then that means our problem is really bigger than immigration.

Blaming immigration for our environmental problems amounts to charging the batter who made the last out with losing the whole game. At minimum it is a smokescreen for denial about a more fundamental need to curb our unsustainable lifestyles. In some cases it is a cover for a racist agenda; in others a kind of not-in-my-backyard outlook that is insensitive to suffering beyond ones own immediate borders. Rather than confront these realities, anti-immigration advocates seem to prefer to take the low road of blaming immigrants. Thus it really does amount to that oft-made charge of scapegoating.

Anti-immigration advocates also don’t want to discuss solutions beyond keeping immigrants out. A “closed door” strategy, they say, will like Adam Smith’s “unseen hand” in economics, naturally make things all work out, in this case by forcing host countries to deal with their population numbers. When pressed on that, they argue that our government can’t or shouldn’t otherwise interfere in the workings of other nations
though we certainly do when we want their oil or when we gut the very family planning programs that might help control population because they don’t square with hardcore Christian ideals.

None of the anti-immigration leaders we tried to engage on this issue wanted to talk about how working to improve the economic conditions of poor nations might help relieve the pressures that drive people to emigrate. Nope. Build walls. Keep (or kick) “em out. And back to our polo matches.

The green groups we contacted were no more helpful, refusing to even discuss immigration. Again, no depth (to say the least), just terse, non-positions like, “We don’t think immigration is an environmental issue,” and no rationale. The National Audubon Society told us that their only concerns about immigration were what impacts border fences might have on birds. So the hidden agenda here seems to be fear that any position, pro- or anti-immigration, will alienate donors.

This disappoints me, because the immigration issue is seething now and needs an intelligent debate and a dose of humanity, neither of which are coming out of Fox News. I like to think our green leaders are more capable than this. But for the moment, at least, they are behaving like, well, ostriches.