Will immigration harm America’s Environment?

One of the more curious arguments against immigration I’ve come across is that it will harm the U.S. environment. Natural resources are limited, the argument goes,and adding more people will force the nation to build more houses, roads, schools, and eventually deplete our water and energy supplies. Droughts will ensue, then famine. Our cities will look like the gigantic cities of the developing world: there will be no clean water, we’ll be wheezing from the air pollution, and raw sewage will run in the streets.

It’s not a pretty picture.

This morning’s Washington Post features an article on John Tanton (pictured above). Mr. Tanton has been fighting immigration for three decades now. He is 72 and a retired country doctor. In the last 30 years he has formed, led or contributed to more than a dozen groups that promote strict immigration limits. The Southern Poverty Law Center declared that “John Tanton…can claim without exaggeration that he is the founding father of America’s modern anti-immigration movement.”

That is not intended as a compliment.

His efforts have been tireless, but like other anti-immigrant activists (as I have been writing since the mid-term elections), he has given the impression that he is merely at the center of a ground swell of grassroots movements against immigration. In reality, his critics note, he is a masterful illusionist, making his one-man effort appear to be the will of many.

My issues with Mr. Tanton, and those who are alarmed by the immigration-environment connection is this: why are we afraid immigrants will destroy our environment when we’re doing a pretty good job right now? How can immigrants be the problem when we allow developers to build cities in deserts when we know there are limited water supplies, and that eventually, such growth is unsustainable?

The truth is, our native population is doing a fine job destroying America’s environment, and unless we check our own behaviors now, immigrants won’t have anything to destroy. We should not simply argue against immigration reform because of the potential danger is poses to the environment. We should consider how our current failed immigration system influences many aspects of American life, and we should reform that system because it is failing all of us.

We should also drive less, consume less, and conserve more. To blame immigrants for our environmental problems (current or in the future) is simply absurd.

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