The Anti-Immigration Movement Goes Green


Emboldened by the broad public support for Arizona’s harsh immigration law, anti-immigrant advocates are trying to drum up support from an unexpected source: socially conscious young liberals more concerned with fighting global warming than sealing off the southern border. According to the American Prospect, a new group called Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR) is trying to convince liberal environmentalists that reducing America’s carbon footprint means restricting immigration as well.

“PFIR, which launched in 2009, bills itself as an environmentalist group and argues that immigration ‘will only lead to more sprawl, more congestion, more pollution, and more degradation,’” the Prospect reports. On its website, the group has a video enlists a scruffy, hipster type to raise the alarm:

The argument isn’t new: John Tanton, the godfather of the anti-immigration movement, kicked off his efforts in the 1970s by presenting himself as an environmental conservationist who was “concerned about what an unstemmed tide of refugees will do to the nation’s resources,” according to one press account quoted by the story. Tanton helped launch a network of anti-immigration organizations that are now the core of the movement, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

But the environmental argument for immigration controls failed to gain much traction the first time: the links between overpopulation and immigration were tenuous, and anti-immigrant activsts found they got farther by presenting immigration as “an affront on American culture [that] contributes to rising crime rates, and steals jobs from American workers,” the Prospect writes.

PFIR is part of the same Tanton network—the head of the group is a former lawyer for FAIR, though PFIR tries to downplay such ties. And PFIR activists are facing the same hard sell this time around, as environmentalists have accused them of finding a convenient scapegoat for environmental hazards when immigrants actually tend to consume and drive less than the average American citizen.

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  • Suzy Khimm was a reporter in the Washington bureau of Mother Jones from March 2010 until June 2011. For more of her stories, click here. Follow her on Twitter here.