Illegal Immigrants Emit More Carbon in US Than in Their Home Countries
Thousands of illegal immigrants gather near the international bridge after crossing the Rio Grande, in Del Rio, Texas, on Sept. 16, 2021. (Charlotte Cuthbertson/The Epoch Times)

By Nathan Worcester

In speeches and executive orders, President Joseph Biden has made the reduction of carbon emissions a central focus, drawing strong support from the Sierra Club and other high-profile environmentalist organizations.

Yet as the flow of illegal immigrants ratchets up and congressional Democrats push for mass amnesty for millions of illegal aliens through reconciliation, those groups have mostly remained silent about the environmental impact of open borders.

This was not always the case: as recently as the 1989, the Sierra Club advocated controlled immigration levels in order to limit U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

In a report that year, it wrote that “immigration to the United States should be no greater than that which will permit achievement of population stabilization in the United States,” adding that “Sierra Club statements on immigration will always make the connection between immigration, population increase in the U.S., and the environmental consequences thereof.”

By 2013, the group had moved in a pro-immigration direction, advocating that the millions of illegal aliens in the United States have a “timely pathway to citizenship”; in contrast to the 1989 report, the statement announcing the Sierra Club’s position made no reference to population increase.

Some have connected the organization’s decades-long shift in policy to megadonor David Gelbaum, who in 1994 or 1995 told the Sierra Club’s president, Carl Pope, “that if they ever came out anti-immigration, they would never get a dollar from me.”

The Sierra Club did not respond to requests for comment from The Epoch Times.

Other high-profile environmental groups have similarly opposed measures aimed at curbing illegal immigration.

The Nature Conservancy, among other groups, has pushed back against efforts to protect the southern border with a wall, claiming it would interfere with wildlife.

Both the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council have voiced their strong support for DACA when the Trump administration tried to end the program—though their statements did not clearly link DACA to any environmental benefits.

None of those groups responded to The Epoch Times’ requests for comment on the environmental impact of immigration.

They also did not respond to requests for comment on the Senate parliamentarian’s recent move to block amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, which congressional Democrats included in the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.

A spokesperson for the American Conservation Coalition (ACC), which describes itself as a “conservative youth movement changing environmental policy,” told The Epoch Times that the ACC does not have a stance on immigration.

One exception to the trend among environmental groups is Scientists and Environmentalists for Population Stabilization (SEPS).

In a 2008 study, SEPS found that immigration to the United States resulted in significantly greater net carbon emissions.

Although typical immigrants were responsible for 18 percent less carbon dioxide emissions than typical native-born Americans, they generated roughly four times as much carbon dioxide as they would have if they had remained in their home countries.

“Immigrants from less affluent countries typically move to the USA in order to increase their material consumption, and that entails increased environmental impacts as well, namely an increase in natural resources used,” said Leon Kolankiewicz, vice president of SEPS and coauthor of the 2008 paper, in an email to The Epoch Times.

“The data and the paper on which I based that assertion are now a bit dated, but I strongly suspect that present emissions are roughly in the same ballpark, and if anything, may have grown markedly as a result of there being some 12-15 million more immigrants in our country in 2021 than there were in 2008.”

Pew Research has reported that the total number of immigrants reached a record 44.5 million in 2018.

In 2019, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) estimated that there were 14.5 million illegal aliens in the United States.

Like SEPS, FAIR acknowledges that immigration can have an environmental impact.

“Unrestricted and uncontrolled immigration to the country can negatively affect the environment,” said Matthew Tragesser, spokesperson at FAIR, in an email to The Epoch Times.

“Population growth is placing enormous strains on U.S. water supplies, agriculture, biodiversity, energy, and land. Communities are expanding at unanticipated rates, which means they have less time to adequately examine how such growth might impact the environment and local ecology.”

In 2021, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has seen a marked increase in encounters on the southern border, reaching what Pew described as a 21-year high alongside a drop in expulsions.

Customs recorded 208,887 border encounters in August 2021 alone, a marked increase over August 2018 (46,719), August 2019 (62,707) and August 2020 (50,014).

In March, CNN reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimated there would be more than 2 million border encounters in the fiscal year ending September 30.

By the end of August, DHS recorded over 1.54 million migrant encounters, including encounters with nearly million single adults.

Kolankiewicz, of SEPS, thinks the incoming aliens could ultimately quadruple the emissions they produced in their home countries, assuming they remain in the United States.

“Back in 2008, we estimated that 11 million illegal immigrants emitted some 108 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, or approximately 10 tons per capita,” he said.

“Assuming that 10 tons per capita estimate still holds today, 2 million illegal aliens crossing the southern border in 2021 would eventually result in some 20 million tons of additional carbon dioxide emitted from the USA,” he continued.

“Keep in mind that they wouldn’t be emitting that amount in the first year, and probably not even in the first decade, as they struggle to get established and get ahead.”

Kolankiewicz added that his work did not consider the additional emissions attributable to the offspring of immigrants—a significant consideration given that immigrants are largely driving population growth in the United States.

He sees immigration as a third rail for the American environmental movement.

“For a variety of reasons, so-called environmental groups (the environmental establishment) themselves refuse to acknowledge this or oppose it,” he added.

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