Missing the Forest for the Trees: The Environmental Arguments of Immigration Restrictionists

Mar 01, 2004 | by
  • Description

The latest attempt by immigration restrictionists to take control of the Sierra Club is again casting a public spotlight on the question of whether immigration to the United States plays a significant role in the destruction of the environment. Anti-immigration activists failed in a 1998 referendum to persuade most Sierra Club members to make immigration restriction an official policy of the environmental organization, which was founded in 1892 by Scottish immigrant John Muir. This time, the restrictionists are attempting to win a majority on the Club's board of directors. As before, the restrictionist camp is using the neo-Malthusian argument that the United States must adopt stringent immigration controls in order to keep the U.S. population low and thereby minimize the amount of resources the nation consumes and the environmental destruction it causes. At first glance, this argument is attractive in its simplicity: less immigration, fewer people, more resources, a better environment. However, as with so many simple arguments about complex topics, it misses the point. Overpopulation is not the primary cause of U.S. environmental woes, and immigration restrictions that remain blind to the economic realities which cause migration are doomed to failure.