Here’s Why Blaming Immigrants For California’s Environmental Woes Is a Cop-Out
Earth Day may be over, but the earth’s problems are far from solved. Take, for example, the anti-immigrant rhetoric poorly disguised as environmentalism that came from this anti-immigration organization for last week’s Earth Day. While it’s really easy to blame California’s woes on another group from ‘over there,’ it certainly doesn’t paint a complete picture or solve California’s problems.
Immigrants are not solely responsible for California’s overpopulation, lack of water or traffic congestion, yet the group asks that we slow immigration “to save more California for tomorrow.” With immigration already on the decline, what does immigration have to do with saving more California for tomorrow?
Immigrants Create Overpopulation
Yeah, that’s sort of a no-brainer. When more people concentrate in one area then overcrowding is a result. Yet, oftentimes, immigration doesn’t emerge out of thin air. There are historical ties, like the United States’ bracero program which encouraged immigration to California’s fields. There are also political ties (e.g., when the United States financed El Salvador’s 11-year Civil War by sending money, weapons and and political support). The political list could go on, but there are could also be economic, cultural and familial reasons.
Here are more reasons from Conserve Energy Future for overpopulation that don’t revolve around immigration itself:
- We are just living longer. Thanks to better technology and medical advances, the death rate is on the decline.
- Fertility isn’t the obstacle that it’s traditionally been. Better pre-natal care also means that there are more and safer pregnancies.
- There are too many “(happy) accidents” or “(happy) surprises.” Family planning still hasn’t fully caught on.
- It’s partly psychological. People that have experienced poverty, extreme natural disasters, or come from communities where more hands help will probably go on to have more children.
Immigrants Drain Water Supply
While there’s no doubt that California is in a drought, it’s ironic that this group promoted California’s water deficit as a result of immigration. California’s agriculture industry probably has much more to do with California running out of water then immigration.
According to California’s Department of Food Agriculture, the Golden State’s $44.7 billion dollar agricultural industry is home to 85,000 farms and ranches with profits in the $100 billion range. As a nation, per the United States Department of Agriculture, 80 percent of our water consumption stems from agriculture; for some states, it can jump to 90 percent.
Although many immigrants do work in the agricultural industry, it doesn’t mean that they are responsible for California’s water woes. They probably are one of the hardest hit groups. California’s drought means less agricultural jobs and “The Water Wars.” As reported in NPR, immigrants express their anger and frustration with signs like “No Water Equals No Jobs,” “Pray For Rain” and “Congress-Created Dust Bowl.”
More Immigrants Mean More Cars
Car congestion is a big problem in California. Getting stuck on California’s I-5 is no fun. Apparently, this organization presumes that most immigrants drive when that’s just not the case.
Actually, immigrants actually “green” cities via their transportation habits and there are habits that non-immigrants can learn. UCTC’s ACCESS magazine discussed how falling immigration rates equaled falling “transit ridership.” Newer immigrants take more advantage of public transportation; driving does become a gradual step for many. While there are very real economic and legal limitations to owning a vehicle, there are also cultural reasons.
Many immigrants come from native countries where using public transportation, walking and biking are the norm. Many immigrants also tend to stay in the ethnic enclaves, or neighborhoods, that they make home, so they don’t need to (or want to) venture too far away. According to a USC paper, even when immigrants live in the suburbs, unlike African-Americans, they are much more likely to carpool.
Instead of promoting a culture of “transportation assimilation,” we could adopt a more eco transportation culture (e.g., Paris recently banned half of their cars).
While there’s no question that we need a fair and comprehensive immigration reform, there’s no need for one group to become a scapegoat. The world’s environmental troubles are linked to the 7 billion (and counting) of us.
Ways Immigrants Actually Help the Environment
Here are a few ways that immigrants actually help the environment:
- They already take part in mobilized environmental efforts.
- They have their fair share of environmental burdens (e.g., the Sierra Club found that 43 percent of Latino voters either live or work near a toxic site).
- They leave less of a carbon footprint by participating in things like public transportation.
- They make professional investments in the green sector by working blue-collar jobs in the green field.
- They already support environmental policies (e.g., a California study surveyed Asians and sound that 3 out 4 were concerned about environmental issues).
- They create businesses with built-in sustainability models.
Anecdotally, I also know that many immigrants come from rural and farming backgrounds. As a result, many immigrants that I’ve met have a greater understanding of, connection to and appreciation for the natural world.
Immigrants do contribute to environmental problems, but, honestly, who doesn’t? Maybe it’s time to stop the push to “shut our borders” because shutting immigrants out of the environmental dialogue won’t solve anything.
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