IN the national debate on immigration, an important fact is often forgotten: the effect of immigration on the environment. Population growth in the United States -- approximately 3 million a year, with more than half attributable to immigration -- is rapidly draining our natural resources and undermining our quality of life.
Cutting consumption alone without stabilizing our population will only guarantee further degradation of our environment, rising poverty among our working class, and continuous overpopulation and widespread misery in developing nations.
During the past 40 years, about 100 million people have been added to the US population, making this country the third-most-populated nation on Earth. Conservative projections are that the US population, now 261 million, will reach 400 million by the year 2050, if the current growth rate continues.
The effects of this growth will continue to be devastating to the environment: Even now our national acquifers are being depleted 25 percent faster than the recharge rate.
On the average, more than 2 million acres of farmland are lost annually to development and erosion; 50 percent of our original wetlands have been drained to accommodate increased demand for agriculture and development; and 500 species are already known to have vanished forever.
Aside from adversely impacting our environment, overpopulation -- driven in large part by high levels of immigration, legal and illegal -- is also a major contributing factor to many serious economic problems.
Even prominent immigrant-rights advocates now acknowledge the adverse impact of immigration. Antonia Hernandez, the president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, recently admitted: ''[M]igration, legal and undocumented, does have an impact on our economy.... Most of the competition is to the Latino community. We compete with each other for those low-paying jobs....''
Paul Ong, a Chinese-American and a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, is another advocate of liberal immigration policy. But he has said: ''In terms of adverse impact on wages and employment, the adverse impact [of immigration] will be most pronounced on minorities and established immigrants....''
Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, has testified before the California state Assembly: ''With 1.5 million legalized immigrants living in California, and only approximately 250,000 agricultural jobs in the state, there is no need for additional farm workers.''
The pro-immigration Urban Institute now also concedes that less-skilled black Americans are harmed economically by immigration. Dr. George Borjas, once pro-immigration, concluded in a recent study that immigration costs $114 billion a year in job losses for US-born workers.
Our immigration policy also displaces American professionals. Every year, tens of thousands of foreign-born professionals are admitted to the US as legal immigrants or ''temporary workers'' to compete mostly with our engineers and programmers, despite continuous massive layoffs in this country.
At a time when the US does not even have the resources to retrain our low-skilled workers or to prepare children to be tomorrow's highly skilled workers, this nation granted legal permanent residency to 314,415 children under age 20 in fiscal year 1993 alone. How can we expect to remain competitive in the global economy with a growing unskilled work force? How can we expect our welfare recipients to regain employment if hundreds of thousands of low-skilled immigrants are added to our labor markets every year?
Even if many immigrants are very motivated, shouldn't we invest in our own citizens rather than citizens of other countries?
As a Chinese immigrant, I recognize that our generous immigration policy also does greater damage to mother Earth because immigrants, accustomed to an American lifestyle which by far is the most polluting, consume far more than what they would have if they were to remain in their home countries.
Also, using the US as the safety valve for developing nations' overpopulation problems does not provide incentives to those countries to stabilize their populations, which is imperative if widespread poverty is to be curbed.
We are a nation of immigrants. However, our level of legal immigration alone is about 1 million a year, a 500 percent increase over the average number of immigrants admitted to the US in the years between 1930 and 1960. This growth far exceeds this country's environmental and economic carrying capacity.
The US has a national debt exceeding $4.5 trillion, 39 million people living below the poverty line, and growing social, economic, and environmental problems. They are exacerbated by continuous high levels of immigration.
The US needs a time out from immigration to develop a sensible policy that would respond to our economic needs and would not adversely impact our environment.