Political Ecology Group's Immigration and Environment Campaign Position Statement

Date Published: July 22, 2006

We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, believe that immigrants and environmentalists need to unite and work together if we are to progress toward an ecologically sustainable and socially just world.

In the current political climate that blames immigration and environmental regulations for the nation's economic problems, we commit ourselves to defend the health, environment, and human rights of all of our communities.

We challenge the fear, hate and divisiveness in today's debate with the following positions which guide our approach to sensible and humane action on immigration and the environment.

· Current economic troubles are not caused by environmentalists or immigrants but by corporate and governmental practices that neglect public well-being in favor of short-term private gain.

Public policies have bolstered business profits while the majority of US residents face declining incomes and job security. Downsizing, de-industrialization, and the shifting of production overseas by transnational corporations are consequences of the new global economy, where corporations have more freedom than ever to move capital and resources to places with cheaper labor and regulatory costs. At the same time, people are criminalized for moving to find work in areas where natural and economic resources are flowing. Today's economic, social and environmental woes are only made worse as opportunistic politicians attack immigrants, workers and the environment.

· Scapegoating the politically disenfranchised is morally unjustifiable, divides people, and hides the real causes of our problems.

Throughout US history, sentiment has turned against immigrants during economic lows. In response to fears of competition with Chinese workers in the 1870's, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which banned Chinese from entering this country for the next 61 years. In the midst of the Great Depression, more than 500,000 persons of Mexican origin were deported from the US, including tens of thousands of American citizens. In the Proposition 187 era, migrants to the US and those who appear "foreign," especially Latinos and Asians, are becoming targets of racist and violent hate crimes. Similarly, anti-immigrant hate groups are on the rise again in Germany, France and Italy. This mean-spiritedness is spurred on by conservative rhetoric that has blamed not only immigrants and environmentalists, but also the poor, the elderly, and people of color.

· While we believe that global demographic issues should be addressed in a serious manner, immigration is not a chief cause of environmental degradation in the US.

Some extremist population control groups have been wooing environmentalists to support anti-immigrant policies, at a time when environmentalists and immigrants need to be working together. They claim that immigration needs to be further restricted because population growth is a major factor in US environmental degradation. We reject this argument and its results. Blaming population growth is a convenient way to ignore the varying impacts of different groups of people and institutions. The impact of an immigrant family living in a one-bedroom apartment and taking mass transit pales in comparison to that of a wealthy family living in a single family home with a swimming pool and two cars. That the US with only 5% of the world's population, consumes 32% of the world's petroleum and plastics and produces 22% of the world's carbon dioxide and chloroflourocarbon (CFC) emissions is not a reason to close our borders but to change our super-consuming economy. For example, reducing energy use will not be achieved by curbing migration, but by adopting policies promoting energy efficiency, mass transit, and renewable energy technologies.

· Over-emphasizing the role of population growth in environmental problems ignores who has control of production and consumption decisions.

Many of the causes of environmental decline in this country have nothing to do with population growth or individual consumer choices. The military, the nation's largest single polluter, and corporations produce much more toxic wastes than households do. Corporate advertising drives over-consumption and creates demand for new products that are often more environmentally destructive than old products. Sprawling suburbs, planned and built by developers, gobble up prime agricultural land and wildlife habitat. The public has little control over these decisions. Attempts to make companies clean up after themselves or make new developments more compact and efficient are often undermined by industry lobbying against regulations. Corporate actions have also limited individual decisions for more sustainable lifestyles, such as choosing to take mass transit instead of driving. For example, in the 1930s and 1940s General Motors, Standard Oil, Firestone, Goodyear and other automobile manufacturers bought out and dismantled the electric trolley system in Los Angeles and 75 other cities in order to create demand for their products.

· Immigrants are essential allies and leaders of the movement for environmental protection and restoration.

Immigrant communities suffer disproportionately from environmental degradation and poisoning, whether from exposure to pesticides in fields, toxic dumps in neighborhoods, or solvents in factories. But immigrants have begun to fight back and are among the leaders of the environmental justice movement. Efforts like those of the mostly Latino residents of Kettleman City, who recently won their 6 year battle against ChemWaste's planned hazardous waste incinerator, are forcing corporations to prevent pollution, rather than dumping it onto those least able to resist. Environmentalists also have much to learn from immigrant cultures and practices. Newcomers to this country often come from places where they had more sustainable lifestyles and a closer connection to the land. The Laotian family that grows its own vegetables without pesticides in a small backyard plot is as much a model of environmentalism as the family that recycles its newspapers.

· As the environmental justice movement has shown, environmental concerns are integrally linked to human rights, health, livelihood and social justice issues.

A violation of an immigrant's rights threatens the rights of all and raises the level of conflict and hate in our social environment. No society that tolerates such disrespect of other human beings is capable of building a healthy co-existence with the natural world. A society where rich dominate over poor and white over black cannot muster the cooperation and good will necessary to solve such problems as global warming or preservation of biodiversity. Environmentalists and immigrants must begin to work together to build a sustainable society based on mutual respect and the celebration of diversity.

We commit ourselves to the following strategies:

· Building alliances between the immigrant rights and environmental movements for an environmentally sustainable economy that meets the needs of all people.
· Defending the human and civil rights of immigrants.
· Resisting the rollback of environmental regulations.
· Refuting the myths that blame immigrants for environmental and economic problems; and highlighting immigrants' positive contributions.
· Supporting policies that radically reduce US consumption of the world's resources and promoting the development and use of environmentally sound technologies.
· Insisting that government, corporations and developers be accountable to community demands for environmental protection and human health.
· Supporting universal and equal access to education, health care, and livable wages - humanitarian goals that are, incidentally, the most effective means to achieve a sustainable population.

For more information on this statement and campaign, contact:
Political Ecology Group (PEG)
965 Mission, Suite 700
San Francisco, CA 94103
Phone 415-777-3488
Fax 415-777-3443
Email peg@econet.org
Website www.igc.org/peg/