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Anti-Immigrant Groups Trying to Lure Support from Environmentalists

Anti-immigration leaders have created and fostered an array of organizations designed to enlist environmentalists.

Environmental protection was not exactly high on the agenda at the 2011 Conservative Political Action conference in February. So a beautifully photographed report on the health of the Chesapeake Bay was a surprising standout in the exhibition hall -- at least until closer inspection. " Immigration, Population Growth and the Chesapeake Bay" is the latest sign that blaming immigrants for environmental degradation has joined other immigrant-demonizing strategies as a favored tactic of the anti-immigration movement.

There is no question that the health of the Chesapeake Bay is an urgent problem. Federal and state officials have been working for years to reduce the flood of pollutants that have led to steep declines in fish and shellfish populations. To date, they have not been very successful.

Enter the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the anti-immigration lobbying group, to steer those concerned about the health of the Chesapeake in a new direction. According to FAIR's slick report:

Overpopulation in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is symptomatic of the impact that immigration-driven population growth is having across the United States...Immediate and decisive action must be taken, with the federal government leading the way by reducing immigration levels in order to achieve U.S. population stability.

Citing troubling data about the health of the Chesapeake Bay taken from actual environmental groups, FAIR calls on those who care about the Bay's health to join FAIR's anti-immigrant crusade. "We must stop growing," the report proclaims, and the only way to do that is to shut the door on immigrants. The report urges activists to raise the issue at local chapter meetings of groups like the Sierra Club and Audubon Society.

FAIR is at the center of a network of anti-immigration organizations founded by nativist John Tanton, who continues to serve on its board. Tanton is an ophthalmologist who headed the Sierra Club's population committee in the 1970s, and, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, "kept moving to the right, eventually coming to embrace an array of eugenicists, white nationalists and race scientists as he increasingly viewed 'European-American' society as under threat."

Tanton's history is a reminder that questions surrounding population have long been contentious within the environmental movement. In 1996, the Sierra Club adopted a policy of neutrality on immigration policy; in 2004, anti-immigration forces waged a fierce battle to take over the Club's board of directors, and were overwhelmingly defeated.

But anti-immigration leaders have created and fostered an array of organizations designed to enlist environmentalists, groups with names like "Progressives for Immigration Reform." In 2008, a coalition of these groups targeted pro-environment liberals directly with ads in publications like the Nation, Harper's and the New York Times.

FAIR's report on the Chesapeake says that the group "advocates for less consumption" and "more environmentally conscious policies." But that claim is hard to reconcile with FAIR's alliances with right-wing politicians.

Last summer, the Southern Poverty Law Center published " Greenwash: Nativists, Environmentalism, & the Hypocrisy of Hate," which examines the miserable environmental records of the anti-immigration movement's political champions. According to the report, members of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, headed by former FAIR lobbyist Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Calif., have an average score from the League of Conservation Voters of 11 percent. Notes the report, "One of them, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has called global warming 'the biggest hoax ever.' Another, nativist hardliner and former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, received a paltry 3% score [from the League of Conservation Voters.]"

There is a simple explanation for the difference between anti-immigrant groups' claimed concern for the environment and their support for anti-environment politicians: It's a ploy to divide progressives. Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies was asked during a panel at the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference why the group published articles that supported global warming. He said it was simply to force a wedge between different people on the left.

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