Immigration and the Environment: It’s About The Numbers by Leah Durant


The US-Mexico border fence in Southern California.

As Americans prepare for the President’s next four years, many conservationists are feeling a bit disappointed about the direction the US is heading in meeting environmental goals. While there have been recent rumblings of the Administration’s plan to move quickly with a solution to the county’s immigration predicament early in the President’s second term, unfortunately most of this energy is being devoted to discussions of amnesty rather than more sensible immigration enforcement. Members from both sides of the aisle fail to realize how essential immigration restrictions are to ensuring the health of the planet and the preservation of the nation’s fragile ecosystems.

Many policy makers still consider it taboo to address how massive immigration to the US, both legal and illegal, is driving unsustainable population growth.

If current immigration trends continue the US is projected to reach half a billion people by midcentury. Considering the huge amount of energy the average American consumes, Americans must find ways to reduce our per capita consumption of fossil fuels in order to avoid major ecological disasters. However, conservation is only part of the solution and will never provide the total solution we need to ensure a sustainable future.

The carbon footprint of an average American is many times greater than the footprints of our counterparts in the developing world. A 2009 Oregon study found that environmental practices such as recycling, driving fuel-efficient cars or using solar energy only barely reduces the overall impact that the average American has on the environment. Ultimately, to enact a positive change the fertility rate/number of Americans must be addressed in some way.

Three million individuals are added to the US population per year. The Center for Immigration Studies estimates that new immigrants and births to immigrants contribute to an increase of 2.3 million people in the US every year. Statistics have found that immigrants ultimately drive up the US fertility rate and thus are heavily responsible for the burgeoning US population. Obviously, the most sensible corrective to this high growth rate is reduced immigration levels, but political leaders have been extremely reluctant to even raise this possibility. We should not expect the rest of the world to pick up our slack and help balance this environmental tragedy.

Despite having what is arguably a mixed record on the environment, the President’s success in setting strict vehicle mileage standards and funding renewable energy projects have done volumes to educate Americans about their day-to-day impact on the environment. Though these accomplishments are worthy of recognition and our individual consciousness may be greater, we are still light years away from any major breakthroughs. The President and congressional leaders need to move away from timid, partial answers and embrace a radically altered framework to address environmental concerns. Let’s hope whatever solutions they propose, that those solutions do address the impact of immigration and overpopulation on the environment.

Leah Durant is the Executive Director of Progressives for Immigration Reform, a 501(c)(3) organization which seeks to examine the unintended consequences of U.S. immigration policies and strives to enhance the working conditions of people worldwide. Prior to her tenure at Progressives, Ms. Durant served as an Attorney with the Civil Division of United States Department of Justice. Ms. Durant holds a B.A. Degree from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law. Source: Progressives for Immigration Reform <; November 15, 2012. Reprinted with permission.


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