Is Immigration a Green Issue? (Video)

immigration green issue image

Image credit: Center for New Community

TreeHugger is a blog about environmentalism, not racism, ethnicity or immigration.
Yet from holocaust deniers at the Copenhagen climate talks to the sometimes xenophobic undertones of energy independence debate, there are times when these subjects collide. When David posted about a Yale essay that claimed open immigration and sustainability were incompatible, one commenter rejected his post as "poorly disguised racism". Now activists from both sides of the immigration debate are stepping up to win the hearts and minds of environmentalists. Created by the Center for New Community, the video below is part of a new campaign to ask environmental groups to reject racism and anti-immigration sentiment, and to continue to fight the root causes of environmental destruction. It is, they say, a response to an organized effort by anti-immigration organizations like the Weeden Foundation that is aiming to steer the green movement towards an explicitly anti-immigration stance.

I must admit that I've always been confused by the "immigration control is green" argument I hear bandied about from time-to-time. Citing overpopulation, activists often claim that reducing the number of immigrants in the US will help keep carbon emissions down. Yet it doesn't take a genius to note that migration from one country to another does not impact global population—which seemed to me to be the only level that matters as far as climate is concerned.

The Center for New Community video does include an excerpt from an anti-immigration commercial that sheds a little more light on this stance. In it, the anti-immigration folks argue that we should keep immigrants from the developing world out because they pollute 4-times-less at "home" than they do in The States. On the face of it, this has at least a bit more logic to it—but it's a logic that could be used to argue against economic development, Fair Trade or any number of other schemes. We could also use it to demand massive cuts in the general per-capita income, or a huge hike in taxes raises—because let's face it, the more money you have, the more you pollute.

The idea that we greens should focus our efforts on combating immigration seems misguided, to say the least. Over consumption, carbon emissions, fossil fuel addiction, industrialized agriculture, peak oil—these are all massive environmental problems that we must tackle right now. Restricting the movements of the poor and the landless will do little to help get us there. However, helping to avoid a growth in climate refugees or using clean energy as a development tool just might.

I'm not saying immigration isn't an important issue, and I am not an advocate for unchecked borders. A sensible, just and fair immigration policy is a prerequisite for a stable society—and I make no claim to knowing what that policy should look like. I just think there are much bigger culprits when it comes to climate change than your average undocumented immigrant. As a documented immigrant with the money to fly home regularly, I see one of those very culprits every time I look in the mirror.

More on Immigration and Sustainability
Yale Essay Says immigration and Sustainability at Odds
Is the Immigration Reform Movement More Powerful than the Green Movement?
Immigration Meets Environmentalism

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