How Anti-Immigration Groups Are Hijacking the Environmental Movement

Masked is the word that comes to mind when I think of anti-immigrant organizations that claim to be concerned about the environment. As we move into a new month, year, decade and closer to the 30th anniversary of Earth Day, we must be mindful of environmental issues and especially of those who are considered legitimate environmental experts. Conscious and informed environmentalism is imperative to solve dire environmental problems.


However, politically extreme organizations that purport to care about environmental preservation/conservation are using this alarming issue to promote their anti-immigrant agendas. They are employing several aggressive tactics, some of which are outright attacks on mainstream environmental organizations for not taking an anti-immigrant stance. Other examples include TV and radio advertisements that falsely implicate immigrants in environmental degradation. Fear-mongering and bullying are the anti-immigrant movement’s favored tactics. 

Jerry Kammer, a senior research fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies wrote a paper attacking the Sierra Club, saying it has "retreated timidly from the national debate over immigration policy…." Kammer also attacks Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club, for saying that if the organization favored reduced immigration it would be perceived as assisting people whose motivations are racist. What Kammer referred to as a "smear campaign" was in fact a great example of how an environmental organization was able to detect and expose anti-immigrant extremists who were trying to hijack an environmental organization.

Unfortunately, it is not just the Center for Immigration Studies, and the attacks on mainstream environmental organizations are not as overt as Kammer’s memorandum. Negative Population Growth, an anti-immigrant group financed by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, ran an advertisement in E Magazine in October 2009. Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) released a multimedia, multi-market ad campaign at the end of October 2009. CAPS' ads harshly attacked immigrants, and specifically targeted California communities that are sensitive to environmental problems. Roy Beck, executive director of Numbers USA wrote about how fences allow deserts to sprout back to life. Progressives for Immigration Reform, another anti-immigrant organization, advertised itself as an environmental organization on environmental blogs.

These organizations all belong to the John Tanton Network, a network of like-minded groups working to advance the notion that environmental organizations and those supporting environmental issues should take a strong anti-immigrant stance. (See map for more details.)

There is no room for hatred, racism, discrimination and division in the environmental movement. What can we do about this? For starters, we can be discerning. Who are the authors and organizations behind what we read? What have they done for the causes they claim to support? One of the most important steps in combating racism is ensuring that individuals and organizations that care about the environment are not fooled by those who mask their true intentions and pretend to be something they are not.

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