“Greenwashing” the Immigration Debate

Reasonable minds can differ on the origins and effects of – and possible solutions to – our broken immigration system, but some interlocutors in our national immigration debate have purer motives than others, and not everyone is completely candid about these motives. At times, beneath the high-toned rhetoric about the rule of law, fairness, and the need for border security – all worthy values in themselves, and worth defending – one can’t help but feel the subsonic rumblings of baser instincts: fear, nativism, xenophobia, and even outright racism.

While it is appropriate to appeal to core values in a debate that implicates our most cherished ideals, we should prick up our ears when demagogues invoke the flag, motherhood, apple pie, and the Constitution, and listen carefully to hear whether they protest too much. A case in point: some commentators in the anti-immigrant movement now claim to be motivated by a concern for the environment, claiming that the U.S. is already grossly overcrowded, that immigration causes development that will endanger our wholesome family farms, and so on. (Never mind the fact that other peaceful, prosperous and democratic countries – Germany, for instance – are more densely populated than the United States, and have not shut down their family farms due to immigration pressures.) The hope seems to be that by “greenwashing” the more unsavory aspects of their agenda, the nativists and xenophobes of the far fringes can somehow broaden their appeal.

One suspects that there is not much overlap in the demographic that claims to oppose immigration on environmental grounds, and genuine environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, that takes no position on immigration reform but pledges “to remain committed to environmental rights and protection for all within our borders, without discrimination based on immigration status.” (See Sierra Club, Global Population and Environment, Frequently Asked Questions.) The Sierra Club further states that their members “have shown they understand that restricting immigration into the U.S. will not solve the planet’s environmental problems. There is broad agreement within the Sierra Club to address the global environmental dilemmas exacerbated by population growth by supporting voluntary family planning programs and access to basic rights for women and girls around the world.” One wonders how much of this – if any – the “greenwashers” would endorse.

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