Our VoiceImmigration

Will Restricting Immigration Protect the Environment?

Imagine 2050 Staff • Oct 29, 2009

This is a pressing question being discussed across the country and an issue that the Center for New Community is taking quite seriously. In fact, I take this issue so seriously that it will be my focus for the next two to three years in my role as Field Organizer for the Center for New Community’s new initiative on Migration, Race and the Environment. I think that the two theories, the Malthusian and nativist theories (described in further detail below), that have been used to argue that immigration should be restricted, lack substance and thus my answer to this question is that immigration should not be restricted.

The Malthusian theory was born when Malthus published “An Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798”, in which he stated that the discrepancy between the rates of population and food growth would lead to a permanent food shortage for humans. Specifically, scholars belonging to the Malthusian tradition claim that populations are constrained by the carrying capacity of the environment and that population growth causes environmental degradation.

They argue that immigrants contribute to the degradation of the environment by urban sprawl, congestion, pollution, waste generation, water consumption, land conversion, depletion of natural resources (since they are more likely to acquire cars) and biodiversity loss. A detailed explanation of this can be found in Roldan Muradian’s article, “Immigration and the environment: Underlying Values and the Scope of Analysis” published on March 6, 2006. A formula which includes a change in pollution multiplied by a change in population was even created to demonstrate these relationships and can be found in Surya Prasai’s article entitled, “Global Climate Change: US immigration and its environmental effect” published on January 28, 2008.

Nativists, on the other hand, worry more about racial composition and claim immigrants will alter the racial composition of the United States. Nativists have added environmental concerns to their arguments about a change in the racial composition of the US. Garrett Hardin (an advocate of eugenics and a contributor to the Social Contract website started by John Tanton) went as far as saying that unrestricted immigration moves people to the food (as opposed to food aid which moves food to the people) , thus speeding up the destruction of the environment in the rich country.

The Malthusian and nativist theories are weak, limited and incomplete. Evaluation of the environmental impacts of immigrants depends on many factors, such as consumption, technology, and the measurement of impacts. Furthermore, a comprehensive analysis including immigrants’ political preferences, economic dynamics, cultural issues and the environmental impacts of immigration worldwide should be conducted. A good example of this presented by Roldan Muradian is as follows: a Mexican farmer migrating from Chiapas to Houston would use updated and greener transport technologies if he migrates to Houston rather than Mexico City and the environmental impacts of urban sprawl in Texas are less severe than in Mexico’s slums, due to better economic and technological capacities.

Urban-rural migration from Mexico to the U.S. probably reduces the expansion of the agricultural frontier into high biodiversity natural habitats in Mexico. Betsy Hartmann suggests that blaming population growth for climate change undermines a progressive climate justice agenda that seeks to reduce economic, social, gender and racial inequalities. For more information one can read her article “10 Reasons Why Population Control is not the Solution to Global Warming”

I am convinced that immigration should not be restricted to improve environmental problems. The arguments that Malthusians and Nativists present are not comprehensive enough and do not consider how advancements in the U.S. and other industrialized countries will actually boost efficiency and decrease waste. Also, blaming immigrants prevents wasteful Americans from taking ownership of their contribution to environmental pollution and degradation. A holistic approach combined with an emphasis on climate justice would prove much more worthwhile than blaming immigrants for environmental problems.

Imagine 2050 Newsletter

  • translate

    English • Afrikaans • العربية • Беларуская • Български • Català • Česky • Cymraeg • Dansk • Deutsch • Eesti • Ελληνικά • Español • فارسی • Français • Gaeilge • Galego • हिन्दी • Hrvatski • Bahasa Indonesia • Íslenska • Italiano • עברית • Latviešu • Lietuvių • 한국어 • Magyar • Македонски • മലയാളം • Malti • Nederlands • 日本語 • Norsk (Bokmål) • Polski • Português • Română • Русский • Slovenčina • Slovenščina • Shqip • Srpski • Suomi • Svenska • Kiswahili • ไทย • Tagalog • Türkçe • Українська • Tiếng Việt • ייִדיש. • 中文 / 漢語