Illegal immigration is an environmental issue for Shela A. McFarlin, who has seen firsthand the tons of trash dumped in the fragile Arizona desert by border-crossers.
Illegal aliens have turned parts of the Southwest desert into environmental disaster areas — dumping an estimated 25 million pounds of trash in the Arizona desert, carving out hundreds of miles of roads through the wilderness and destroying thousands of acres of habitat with cooking fires that have gone awry.
“The desert environment is fairly sensitive, so we’re concerned about the damage to habitat, plants and animals,” said Miss McFarlin, who authored the Bureau of Land Management’s 2006 report on environmental damage from illegal immigration. “It’s not at all inviting to see toilet paper, fecal matter and backpacks by the thousands. Not at all.”
Once the immigrants, both legal and illegal, arrive, the scenario isn’t much rosier. Immigration is now the primary factor in U.S. population growth, which drives such environmental woes as housing sprawl, pollution and traffic.
But don’t expect your local Green Party activist to grab a lawn chair and join the Minutemen border patrols any time soon: The mainstream environmental movement is firmly and uniformly agnostic on the issue.
“We’ve never taken a position pro or con on immigration,” Sierra Club spokesman Eric Antebi said.
“We don’t have the expertise to deal with that [illegal immigration],” Wilderness Society spokesman Ben Beach said.
These responses exasperate environmentalists such as Dick Lamm, the former Democratic governor of Colorado and a 30-year member of the Sierra Club. Mr. Lamm broke ranks with the movement years ago by insisting that a responsible environmental policy has to include population and immigration controls.
He is among the most prominent of a small-but-hardy band of environmentalists who have tried for years to push the movement toward an anti-immigration stance. So far, they haven’t had much luck.
“The environmental movement refuses to acknowledge that immigration and population are environmental issues,” Mr. Lamm said.
Why? Politics, he said.
“The environmental movement has gone politically correct,” Mr. Lamm said. “They’re committing political malpractice by ignoring population.”
But Jenny Neeley, Southwest representative for Defenders of Life, said her group hasn’t taken a stance on immigration reform in Congress because “I don’t think we’re knowledgeable enough to say, ‘This will stop the illegal crossings.’”
Faced with a difficult choice, critics said, the environmental movement has abandoned its primary mission — protecting the planet — rather than deviate from the liberal establishment.