Environmentalism is not opportunism on the part of immigration restrictionist groups. Protecting the environment was fundamental to the founders of the U.S. restrictionist movement. A new campaign by restrictionist groups that links traffic congestion, environmental destruction, and urban sprawl to immigration growth is being criticized by liberal groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center as being an attempt to win new adherents to immigration restrictionism. A new anti-immigration coalition called America’s Leadership Team for Long Range Population-Immigration-Resource Planning placed large ads last month in such national publications as the New York Times and The Nation. One ad shows an eight-lane highway clogged with stalled traffic with the caption: “One of America’s Most Popular Pastimes.” Another ad shows a bulldozer plowing through a forest with the provocative caption: “One of America’s Best Selling Vehicles.” In the traffic congestion ad, the member groups – Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), NumbersUSA, Social Contract Press, and American Immigration Control Foundation – state: “We’re the nation’s leading experts on population and immigration trends and growth.” SPLC notes that this was “not the first time that … anti-immigration activists have tried to woo environmentalists in an attempt to gain political support for their cause.” SPLC, which categorizes NumbersUSA, and American Immigration Control Foundation as hate groups, points out that John Tanton, a founder and principal figure in FAIR and Social Contract Press, lobbied the Sierra Club in 1996 to approve a plank calling for immigration restrictions, and in 2004 an anti-immigrant faction sought election to the Sierra Club’s board of directors. But it would be wrong to dismiss these immigration restrictionists as simply opportunists attempting to create inroads among liberals and environmentalists. The modern restrictionist movement emerged from the zero population and environmental movements of the 1970s. Unlike most immigration advocates, such leading restrictionist organizations as FAIR, Social Contract Press, Center for Immigration Studies, and Numbers USA have environmental credentials that date back four decades. Tapping his base in environmental and population control organizations such as the Sierra Club, National Audubon Society, and Zero Population Growth, Tanton in 1979 cofounded FAIR and was instrumental in founding many other leading restrictionist groups, including Center for Immigration Studies and NumbersUSA. Because of his central role in creating the organizational infrastructure of restrictionism, SPLC calls Tanton “the puppet master of the modern anti-immigration movement.” While anti-population environmentalism is no longer a pillar of restrictionism, it continues to be a strong tendency among the anti-immigration forces. The leading restrictionist institutes in Washington – NumbersUSA, FAIR, and Center for Immigration Studies – continue to publish analysis and studies detailing what they claim are the direct links between immigration, environmental destruction, and the declining quality of life in the United States.
The public voice of the anti-immigration environmentalists is Richard Lamm, the former Colorado governor who is the coauthor of The Immigration Time Bomb: The Fragmenting of America. Lamm, who serves on FAIR’s advisory board, led the restrictionist slate of candidates who in 2004 sought unsuccessfully to win control of Sierra Club’s elected board of directors. Immigration restrictionists have become experts in out-flanking immigrant rights activists and immigration proponents.
But they have repeatedly failed in other attempts to integrate the U.S. environmental movement into their fold. Groups like the Sierra Club have rebuffed attempts to merge environmental and restrictionist forces.
The new campaign indicates that some of the leading restrictionist organizations believe that with higher gas prices and rising environmental consciousness it may be an opportune time to make another bid to link environment, population, and immigration issues. Those who are concerned about the escalating immigration crackdown in America would do well to forward their own arguments about immigration and sustainable development.