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Sierra Club Support Positively Links Environmentalism to Immigration


Domenic Powell • Apr 29, 2013

In a move that will continue to run shivers up the spine of the anti-immigrant movement, the Sierra Club backed a path to citizenship for the country’s 11 million immigrants currently without status.

“To protect clean air and water and prevent the disruption of our climate, we must ensure that those who are most disenfranchised and most threatened by pollution within our borders have the voice to fight polluters and advocate for climate solutions without fear,” the Sierra Club Board of Directors said in a statement released on Thursday.

Population control is at the intellectual core of the anti-immigrant movement, and on those grounds it has tried to establish a footing within environmentalism, including an attempt at a hostile takeover of the Sierra Club in 2004.

While last week’s announcement is sure to ruffle some feathers, the established anti-immigrant groups have already been letting their bitterness be known for some time. Earlier this month, Californians for Population Stabilization, posted a blog titled “Sierra Club is Hostile to America.” In 2010, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) released a report in which they accused the Sierra Club, the Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for Biological Diversity of “twisting their logic to a point that their commitment to partisan orthodoxy trumps any concern for the environment.”

Notably, their statement avoids the commonly used phrase “immigration reform” outright, which contrary to FAIR’s claims, would indicate at least a little heterodoxy coming from the Club. Included in the current reform proposal is a nearly air-tight border apprehension rate of 90 percent, meaning more agents, more cars, more fencing, and more deleterious effects on the border environment. The Club has long held fierce opposition to the border wall and other powers given to the border patrol by the REAL ID Act to degrade the environment through its Borderlands campaign.

Author Jonathan Franzen chose overpopulation as a major theme of his 2010 novel, Freedom, along with the role the rich and powerful play in promoting it. In real life, wealthy ideologues have done exactly that—funded the anti-immigrant movement under the guise of environmentalism.

Trammel Crow, heir to a Texas real estate empire who organizes and funds Dallas Earth Day, is also funding the Farmers Branch Legal Defense Fund, which supports “efforts to bar illegal immigrants from rental housing.” The fight in Farmers Branch, TX  served as a legal laboratory – and a personally lucrative endeavor – for Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. So far, he has given $300,000 to the cause of this one town alone, which has become quite costly over the years, much to the chagrin of Texans who value both immigrants and the environment.

Fred Stanback, another wealthy conservationist and population control advocate who has given hundreds of thousands to the anti-immigrant movement across three decades, founded an internship program at the environmental school of Duke University. The program sent interns to FAIR, the Center for Immigration Studies, NumbersUSA, and Progressives for Immigration Reform (One of those interns assisted in writing the report by FAIR mentioned above that took a cheap shot at the Sierra Club in 2010). Luckily, after facing public inquiry, Duke removed those organizations from the program and promised to put the partner organizations under more scrutiny in the future.

Environmentalist Bill McKibben also recently struck out in favor of immigration reform, leaving many supporters of the measure optimistic that more support from the environmental movement might be on its way. The Sierra Club’s statement is a hopeful one, both for sending the anti-immigrant movement reeling and for bringing a thoughtful, powerful ally into the fold for a path to citizenship.

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