Report on the Immigration and Environment National Strategy Meeting, U.S.A. March 16-17, 1996

Date Published: July 22, 2006

In March 1996, representatives of immigrant rights, environmental, environmental justice, civil rights, women's and other organizations met to address the scapegoating of immigrants in the context of the current rollback of environmental, health, civil and human rights. The Immigration and Environment National Strategy Meeting, one of the first opportunities for many environmental and immigrant rights groups to meet face-to-face, yielded several commitments to immediately respond to anti-immigrant scapegoating as well as to examine longer range projects and networking.

The meeting was planned by the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, the Committee on Women, Population and the Environment, the Hampshire College Population and Development Program, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and the Political Ecology Group (PEG). Much of the responsibility for organizing the meeting and for facilitating its follow-up has rested with PEG, whose Immigration and the Environment Campaign has been one of the most active, new environmental justice initiatives in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Hampshire College Population and Development Program dedicated staff support and resources to the meeting.

This meeting was called to challenge the 'greening of hate', in which anti-immigrant forces, using arguments about US population growth, are actively courting environmentalists and encouraging them to blame immigrants for US environmental problems. They have urged environmentalists to support an immigration moratorium - a position more extreme than any legislation currently pending in Congress. Meeting organizers were concerned that this scapegoating draws attention away from the real causes of environmental degradation and divides immigrants and environmentalists, when there is a great need to work together. Conservative forces are blaming the nation's economic woes on immigrants and environmental regulation while environmentalists and immigrants are being pitted against each other.

The meeting began with presentations on the global roots of migration and environmental.destruction. Josh Karliner of the Transnational Resource and Action Centre spoke about the nature of the global economy and its environmental consequences. National Network Director Cathi Tactaqin provided an overview of international migration trends. They noted the significant role that environmental degradation plays in displacing populations and moving them into the migration stream.

A second panel discussed the current political landscape of immigration and the environment, particularly focusing on the 'greening of hate,' PEG's Penn Loh asserted that a key tool in addressing environmental concerns about population growth is learning to deconstruct the I=PAT ('population bomb') framework through the lens of environmental justice. Many population control advocates focus narrowly on the numbers of people, a political distortion which does not address who's doing what to whom; fails to separate the divergent impact of rich and poor, and ignores the political and economic forces driving environmental degradation and migration Betsy Hartman presented information about groups involved in the 'greening of hate' and an analysis of the implications of identifying environmental issues as a national security threat.

Participants shared the work of their respective organizations and explored strategies. This included a public event, "Environmental Justice Beyond Borders" featuring four organizing efforts linking immigrant rights and environmental justice. By the end of the meeting, participants had agreed on the need to build an effective working alliance between the immigrant rights and environmental groups and to explore links with the labor, civil rights, religious and women's movements.