Immigration Issues

Rating Environmental Groups on Immigration (2009)

FAIR is calling on environmental groups to join us in open, honest public discussion about immigration’s impact on U.S. population growth and the environment.

picture of waterfall

In just the last decade, the U.S. population has grown 13 percent—and 85 percent in the last 50 years. That population growth has put an enormous strain on already overburdened U.S. water and energy supplies and other natural resources. It’s fueling sprawl by escalating pressure for new housing developments, more roads, and strip malls that inevitably encroach on wildlife habitat. Our sprawling urban areas are encroaching on fragile coastal wetlands and paving over farmland at alarming rates in order to meet the needs of a constantly increasing population.

Environmentalists agree that population growth is a serious issue but many don’t speak out publicly for fear of alienating the social, economic and religious constituencies who support continued population growth. This is particularly true when immigration reform enters the discussion. Thus, it often goes unmentioned that Census Bureau data shows that over 80 percent of future U.S. population growth will be due to immigration.

Even as immigration-driven population growth is swallowing up open space, taxing the environment, and causing increased pollution, waste, habitat destruction, and deforestation across the country, America’s leading environmental groups are remaining silent.

In some cases this silence can be attributed directly to pressure from elite donors. So it was when investor David Gelbaum donated $101.5 million to the Sierra Club in 2001.

Read more about the scandalous submission of top environmental groups to corporate and private donors in: Green, Inc. An Environmental Insider Reveals How a Good Cause Has Gone Bad, by Christine MacDonald (The Lyons Press, 2008).

Gelbaum was already a substantial donor in 1995, when he told the Sierra Club, “[I]f they ever came out anti-immigration, they would never get a dollar from me.”1 The next year, the Sierra Club Board of Directors adopted a policy of silence, stating: “The Sierra Club, its entities, and those speaking in its name will take no position on immigration levels or on policies governing immigration into the United States.”2

Despite pressure from its members to confront the issue of immigration, the Sierra Club has maintained its silence, for which it was richly rewarded by David Gelbaum.

“The leadership are fooling themselves. Overpopulation is a very serious problem, and overimmigration is a big part of it. We must address both. We can’t ignore either.”
—David Brower
first executive director of the Sierra Club, July 1998

FAIR examined the stances of 25 environmental groups on immigration and population growth. We scrutinized official publications, board resolutions, web sites, position papers, and in some cases spoke directly with organizations’ staff.

Of the 25 organizations examined, 19 talked about overpopulation, and 15 addressed it as a problem in the United States.

Read more about the scandalous submission of top environmental groups to corporate and private donors in: Green, Inc. An Environmental Insider Reveals How a Good Cause Has Gone Bad, by Christine MacDonald (The Lyons Press, 2008).

Read more about the scandalous submission of top environmental groups to corporate and private donors in: Green, Inc. An Environmental Insider Reveals How a Good Cause Has Gone Bad, by Christine MacDonald (The Lyons Press, 2008).

But while some groups did acknowledge immigration as a major source of U.S. population growth, most shied away from advocating immigration reduction as a solution.

The Sierra Club isn’t alone in its reluctance to tackle immigration. Most environmental groups attempt to talk their way around the problem. They insist that reducing consumption and increasing regulations will negate the impact of immigration-led overpopulation. But we can’t legislate our way out of the problems caused by population pressure. President Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development found that we would all have to cut our consumption by half—a highly unlikely scenario—just to keep up with population growth.3

The factors that deter open discussion of immigration are varied. Many groups want to avoid the controversy that comes from discussing immigration reform. Others fear offending major donors that are sympathetic to, or profit from, immigration. No one wants to be labeled as racist for their opposition to unsustainable immigration levels.

Unfortunately, environmentalists’ reluctance to confront this difficult issue benefits the special interests that profit when open debate is stifled—and leaves the rest of us, and our environment, out to dry.

We owe it to our children and grandchildren to take an honest, responsible look at immigration policy. That doesn’t mean abandoning our humanitarian obligations to those in other countries seeking a better life. But we can’t solve the world’s problems by importing a tiny fraction of the millions who would like to come here; instead, we’ll need to solve problems where people live and help them turn their countries into places that people aren’t driven to leave.

U.S. immigration policy must be designed to ensure a healthy and sustainable future for our country.

This Earth Day, let’s tell national environmental groups to end the silence and start putting our environmental future first.

FAIR examined the stances of various environmental groups on overpopulation and immigration. Here’s what we found:


View Table >

June 2009


  1. Kenneth R. Weiss, "The Man Behind the Land," The Los Angeles Times, October 27, 2004.
  2. Sierra Club’s official position on immigration,
    http://www.sierraclub.org/policy/conservation/immigration.pdf.
  3. Report of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development, 1996.