Guest Blog by Ben Lowe
“If we want to protect the environment then we need to stop letting immigrants come to America.”
As someone who has been actively advocating both for better environmental stewardship and better immigration policies, I was taken aback by this statement summarizing the position of key anti-immigration organizations. These groups have recently been arguing that immigrants are bad for the environment and so, in the interest of sustainability, the U.S. should drastically decrease the number of immigrants allowed into the United States each year.
You may be surprised to learn, as I was after I did some digging, that the anti-immigration movement in the U.S.—influential groups that unabashedly seek to minimize not just illegal immigration, but legal immigration as well—has its roots in ostensibly environmental concerns.
At least three of these groups—the Federation for American Immigration Reform, NumbersUSA, and the Center for Immigration Studies—were originally founded by a man named Dr. John Tanton, an ophthalmologist and bird-watching enthusiast who lives in northern Michigan. Dr. Tanton believes that a growing population is a perilous threat to environmental wellbeing. As the organizations that he founded continue to argue, he believes that individuals living in the United States consume and pollute far too much and that if we let more immigrants in, they will adapt our consumption patterns and exacerbate the crisis.
It’s true that Americans consume and, as a result, are responsible for more pollution than most other countries, and we urgently need to address this problem. But the answer is certainly not to cut off legal immigration. That is both misguided and selfishly irresponsible.
After all, the low-income undocumented immigrants living five to a one-bedroom apartment in my neighborhood, who ride bicycles to their jobs because they don’t own cars and are ineligible for driver’s licenses, tend to have a much smaller environmental footprint than most in our society.
Perhaps we need to remove the plank in our own eyes before we look at the specks in the eyes of often poor and marginalized immigrants (Matt. 7:3-5)? If the problem is overconsumption, then the solution is to address our consumption patterns, and we should start with our own lifestyles.
In the end, we are called to faithfulness. The God who who placed Adam and Eve in the Garden “to work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15) also commands us to “love those who are foreigners” (Deut. 10:19). I believe we can do both together. And I pray that our leaders will exercise wisdom and courage in shaping policies that champion both of these critical causes.
Ben Lowe is the Director of Young Adult Ministries at the Evangelical Environmental Network, the author Green Revolution: Coming Together to Care for Creation (IVP, 2009) and the son of an immigrant from Malaysia.
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