Peak & Prairie

Rocky Mountain Chapter's
Online Newsletter
February / March 1998



Supporting Statement for Proposal B


Why the Sierra Club Should Remain Neutral on U.S. Immigration

by John Wade, Convenor, Public Policy / Personal Choices


"When we try to pick out anything by itself we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." John Muir


The Sierra Club will decide by the 1998 member ballot whether to affirm the position adopted in 1996 after several years of intense debate at all levels of the Club or to change it to advocate a Congressionally mandated "reduction in net immigration." The Club position, which we ask you to support, asks members to reaffirm and maintain the Sierra Club's strong commitment to addressing the root causes of global environmental problems. It recognizes that concern for the population and environment of the United States must be global in scope if we are all to live peacefully, side-by-side, in a healthy environment. Sierra Club volunteers including the Sierra Club Board of Directors, Council of Club Leaders (representing the Chapters and the Regional Conservation Committees), National Population Committee, and hundreds of Club leaders in each region have spoken out in support of that position. In 1995, our own Rocky Mountain Chapter Executive Committee voted to recommend Sierra Club take a neutral position on immigration control and work neither for nor against open or closed borders.

The Club position recognizes that continued divisive debate within our Club over immigration reduction, using time and resources needed for our positive agenda, will cripple the ability of the Sierra Club to effectively address population issues and the multiple factors that drive global migration. A divisive "anti-immigration" position would also cause serious political damage to the Sierra Club and the environmental movement. To protect the environment we rely on our ability to build trust and to forge an inclusive movement. African American and Latino communities and their elected leaders, with few exceptions, are our most consistent allies in working on the Sierra Club's conservation priorities. To focus on more restrictive immigration quotas would undermine our ability to work with these essential allies.

The Club position also recognizes that a divisive statement calling for reduction in immigration would gain little even for the cause of those who wish to see further immigration restrictions. Considering we have very little track record working on immigration, nor DC staff dedicated to them, Congress would be unlikely to respond to the Club on an issue so far from their perception of our environmental mission.

Further still, whatever our motivations, a focus on restricting immigration would associate us with racist groups and the growth of hate crimes such as occurred against Asians and Latinos following passage of California's Proposition 187 (an initiative to reduce immigration).

The 1997 UN Population Report reveals enormous progress in reducing population growth worldwide through voluntary approaches consistent with universal human rights. The Sierra Club has successfully worked to reduce birthrates throughout the world by supporting improved educational and economic opportunities for women and by supporting the right of all peoples to reproductive and maternal health care.

But that important work is not over. Extremists in Congress are still working to deny millions of people the right of access to family and reproductive health services. And here in the United States, there are more unwanted births than legal immigrants every year. Working with activists worldwide, Sierra Club has come to better understand the full range of factors that contribute to global population growth. Many studies have found that global birthrates and global migration across borders decrease when (1) people have full access to reproductive and family health services, including maternal and infant care; (2) women have full and equal access to education and equal social, economic and political status; (3) governments protect comprehensive human and environmental rights; and (4) sustainable development preserves local communities and livelihoods.

When those crucial conditions prevail women have healthier and smaller families. That holds true regardless of race, nationality and economic or citizenship status.

Population growth is obviously one, but it is only one, of many interconnected factors that influence the health of the environment. Much of our environmental degradation is a symptom, the result of an unsustainable global economy, partly driven by government policies that exacerbate poverty and undermine public health and human rights.

Deeply entrenched government subsidies promote overconsumption, so wasting natural resources. To protect the natural resources and global environment upon which we all depend, we must find positive alternatives to overconsumption both here in the United States and around the world. Overconsumption anywhere is now a threat to the environment everywhere.

To address the environmental consequences of migration, we must address the causes, not the symptoms. More restrictive immigration quotas will not end the human rights abuses and economic inequities that drive millions around the world from their homes. They cannot help provide millions of families with access to the basic means of livelihood. They cannot end the destruction of soil, air and water that drive so many from their homelands. They will do nothing to deal with illegal immigration into the United States, which is probably greater than legal immigration. We environmentalists gain strength when our actions demonstrate commitment to the broad underlying causes of environmental degradation globally. If we are to solve our environmental problems we will need the help of every member, working together to forge strong alliances based on mutual respect. Please vote in support of the present Sierra Club position.

(Much of this article was borrowed from the Planet article by Kostmayer, Kalla.)