The question of mass immigration levels into the U.S. can be regarded both as
a "people" question and as an "environmental " question. Although the
Sierra Club teaches that people are part of the environment and thus
cannot be separated from it, many of those who would oppose the Ballot
Initiative feel that it would be somehow "anti-immigrant," run counter
to "environmental justice," or is "racist" or "elitist" to reduce U.S. mass
immigration levels. We believe, for reasons given below, that even if
destruction of the environment by endless U.S. population growth were
not at all a consideration, still, a very good case can be made for
lower immigration levels based solely on "people" considerations.
John Muir, the founder of the Sierra club, was accused of
having racist associates in the Los Angeles Times
Americans of Color Most Affected
Consider first the implications of massive immigration on people already
in the United States. Strong support for reduced levels of mass immigration
comes from poor Americans, from African-Americans, and from
Hispanic-Americans. Indeed, numerous nationwide polls show majorities of
all major ethnic groups support lower levels of mass immigration. 1
of color and poor people want less immigration because they are "racist"
or "elitist"? Together with the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform
(chaired by Barbara Jordan), we believe that it is neither racist nor
improper to consider the opinions of Americans of color.
Why do so many poor Americans and persons of color oppose high levels of mass
immigration? Because they realize that their lives are impacted
adversely by large numbers of newcomers. These impacts occur in many
ways, such as the downward pressure on wages caused by increased
competition for jobs, the dislocation of residents from traditional
neighborhoods, the burdens on schools from masses of non-English
speaking children, the competition for other government-supplied
services by increasing numbers of newcomers, and so on.
By its de facto support of present high levels of mass immigration the Sierra
Club has chosen to ignore disadvantaged Americans in favor of
immigrants, many of whom are not disadvantaged at all.
U.S. Impacts on People around the World
The preceding paragraphs concern the relationship between mass immigration
and people already in the United States. What about people impacted
elsewhere? At a June 1997 talk at UCLA, John Young of the World Watch
Institute remarked, "Our [the U.S.] destruction of the world is not
visible here." This destruction is visited on poor and indigenous people
of color all over the world. And the larger the U.S. population, the
more havoc we cause. We are the only major industrialized nation on
Earth whose population still is growing rapidly, and we already
contribute much more to global environmental impacts than any other
One excellent summary source of information that we recommend to all is
"Rainforest Destruction" (1990) by the World Rainforest Movement. 2
than 30 groups from various countries signed on to this little booklet.
These include U.S. groups such as Rainforest Action Network, which is
concerned both with the rainforest environment and its peoples, and
Cultural Survival, which primarily is concerned with the well-being of
indigenous peoples worldwide. The bottom line, expressed repeatedly in
"Rainforest Destruction," is that the primary cause of destruction of
the environment and of the lives of people who live in sensitive places
abroad is not population growth in the developing world. Rather it is
the rape and pillaging of the developing world by the developed world
through multinational corporations and governments.
This contention by the World Rainforest Movement contradicts the claim
of Initiative opponents that population growth should be addressed only
in a global context. Population growth in the United States must be
addressed because it strengthens the very multinational economic forces
that lead to environmental destruction abroad. Club population activists
work very hard just to maintain international family planning assistance
against repeated attacks in Congress. Nevertheless, the good that
accrues from these efforts is outweighed when U.S. population growth is
ignored by harm caused elsewhere to satisfy America's already huge and
steadily increasing material needs. As we pave over our own most
productive farmland to accommodate a rapidly growing population, food
required for domestic consumption will come increasingly from
plantations and cattle ranches abroad which expropriate lands belonging
to indigenous peoples. Your frozen orange juice container is now just as
likely to say "Made in Brazil" as "Made in Florida."
Food Production and Disaster Assistance
Conversion of U.S. farmland to accommodate an expanding population,
occurring now at a very rapid rate in places like California's Central
Valley, can impact poor and desperate people elsewhere in other,
indirect ways. The United States is one of only 8 countries that export
substantial quantities of cereal grains. In the foreseeable future, the
combined effect of decreasing arable land and many more mouths to feed
here may mean that the U.S. will be unable to export food to the world's
hungry in normal times. Indeed, the U.S. could have so little surplus
production after satisfying its own needs that even humanitarian relief
may be difficult to provide when disaster strikes abroad. In the drought
year of 1988, for example, the U.S. produced only enough would-be
agricultural exports to satisfy domestic needs.
In summary, the environmental ramifications of continued rapid U.S.
population growth are clearly destructive, while social considerations
can be interpreted in various ways by people of good will. The Sierra
Club therefore should follow the clear environmental path, the one based
on reason, not emotion. We should follow the policy recommended by the
Sierra Club itself prior to February 1996, that of population
stabilization "first of the United States and then of the world."
1 Roper Poll (1996): 83% of all Americans surveyed favor lower levels
of immigration; 73% of Black Americans and 52% of Hispanic Americans
favor reducing mass immigration levels to 300,000 or less annually. Latino
National Political Survey (1993) found 7 out of 10 Latino Americans
believe immigration is too high. Hispanic USA Research Group poll (1993)
found 3/4 of Hispanics believe fewer immigrants should be admitted.
Other poll results are available on request.
2 ISBN:967-99987-2-X Published by World Rainforest Movement,
87 Cantonment Road, 10250 Penang, Malaysia