For environmentalists, a growing split over immigration
To environmentalists worried about population growth, people are people.Skip to next paragraph
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Even if they do their best to live lightly on the land, their rising numbers are a growing burden on Earth's resources. And whether they sing the "The Star-Spangled Banner" in English or in Spanish really doesn't matter.
As politicians and the public heatedly debate immigration, so, too, are environmental activists.
The flow of people into the United States is troubling some environmentalists for two reasons. First, more Americans means more people living in one of the world's most resource-consuming cultures. Second, there's new evidence that Hispanic women who move to the US have more children than if they stayed put.
"We've got to talk about these issues - population, birth rates, immigration," says Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which confronts whalers, seal hunters, and those who poach wildlife in the Galapagos Islands. "Immigration is one of the leading contributors to population growth. All we're saying is, those numbers should be reduced to achieve population stabilization."
Mr. Watson also was a Sierra Club board member.Last month, he resigned in protest just before his three-year term ended because he thinks the organization ignores immigration as a major factor in population growth.
Beneath the dispute is a political subtext. Environmentalists generally see themselves as political progressives; they don't want to be bedfellows with anti-immigrant activists sometimes labeled as xenophobic or racist. Very few greens raise a supportive fist when they see "Stop the Invasion" billboards sprouting from California to Florida. For the most part, they skirt the issue.
"The leadership and the membership have said we want to be neutral on this," says Eric Antebi, national press secretary for the Sierra Club in San Francisco, one of the largest and oldest grassroots environmental groups in the country. It's a global issue, says Mr. Antebi, caused by environmental degradation and poverty that need to be solved so people won't have to look elsewhere for a better life. Other large environmental groups take the same position.
Yet the US population is far from stabilized, and immigrants (legal and illegal) are one of the main reasons. There are about 11 million illegal immigrants in the US today, 57 percent from Mexico, and another 24 percent from other Latin American countries, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Of the US foreign-born population, nearly 30 percent is illegal, according to Pew.
The US Census Bureau this week reported that Hispanics - the largest minority at 42.7 million - are the nation's fastest-growing group. They are 14.3 percent of the overall population, but between July 2004 and July 2005, they accounted for 49 percent of US population growth. Of the increase of 1.3 million Hispanics, the Census Bureau reported, 800,000 was because of natural increase (births minus deaths), and 500,000 was due to immigration.