“Greening” Again: The Anti-immigrant Movement’s Slide to Environmental Racism

“If we look at the conservation ethic of some of the countries from which large numbers of immigrants are coming, we don’t find the same sort of respect for the land and our fellow creatures that has developed here. We certainly don’t see this in many of the southeastern Asian cultures or in Latin America. They don’t have the same sort of conservation ethic we have here.”

-John Tanton, 1989

“And with every new U.S. resident, whether from births or immigration, comes further degradation of America’s natural treasures.”

-Ad for “America’s Leadership Team for Long Range Population-Immigration-Resource Planning,” 2008

Windmills. Water. Bulldozers. Gridlock. Sprawl. Appearing in the New York Times, the slick, quarter-page info-ads reflect the nation’s deepening concern about energy and the environment, and invite readers in to learn more—not about resource conservation, of course, but about controlling immigration, the source of all ills.

There at the bottom of the ads are their sponsors—the stellar cast of America’s white nationalist, anti-immigrant movement. The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) posts up at center — along with American Immigration Control Foundation, Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), NumbersUSA, and Social Contract Press — proclaiming to be “America’s Leadership Team for Long Range Population-Immigration-Resource Planning.”

The key words in the ads, of course, are “immigration” and “population”—not “environment,” and certainly not “rampant consumption” by the world’s most resource-hungry nation over the last half century.

Immigrants, we are told, are THE source of America’s population explosion and, thereby, THE cause of its energy/water/land use/metro sprawl challenges, rising property taxes, and schools “bursting at the seams.” Aimed not only at the passing reader, the ads clearly reach out to environmentalists. One is specifically aimed at “progressive thinkers” and picks up on the worn-out mantra that immigration restrictionists are the only ones courageously linking “The Dots That Nobody Really Wants to Connect”: immigration-population-degradation.

This renewed “greening” of FAIR’s and its allies respective brands of bigotry is but a piece of a strategy designed to lure progressives into the anti-immigrant web. Tried and true, the strategy reflects the long-standing, abject use of environmental and population issues to advance an agenda laden with white nationalism.

These ads are environmental racism in pure, distilled forms.

FAIR founder John Tanton’s decades-old assessment of the conservation ethics of Asian and Latin peoples is a clear and concise indicator of the racial derision that has infused this movement.

Tanton’s roots in the conservation and population control movements are original and deep. Dating back to the 1950s, he worked with the Michigan Natural Areas Council, and during the 1960s he helped set up a Planned Parenthood Clinic in northern Michigan. By the 1970s he was active nationally in both movements, which were strong and vocal during a period when limits to economic growth at the expense of the environment were openly discussed across the breadth of the political spectrum.

Yet, along with some others within these movements, Tanton ignored any semblance of racial analysis, traversing to the deep ends of white nationalism and the preservation of “Western Culture” for white Americans.

While decades have passed since Tanton founded FAIR, his voice was then remains FAIR’s voice now, one thinly concealed behind yet another of its many facades—this time with (white) “America’s Leadership Team…” mining for new recruits who will assure the longevity of the dominant culture, as well as its environment and resources.