Immigration and the Environment

Most of us who are concerned with environmental issues know that there is a strong correlation between population growth and environmental damage. Yet too few accept that immigration per se effects the environment. Many argue that crossing a border does not mean there are more consumers or producers of waste – even though the natural aspiration for a higher standard of living, which is often a major motive for migrants – implies an increased impact on the environment by the migrant.

The current heat wave in the northwest U.S. suggests that much more attention should be paid to the environmental consequences of large-scale immigration – the driving force behind population growth in the U.S. The heat wave in the Northwest comes at a time when the region’s water resources are being depleted.

Water is essential to life and has long been a flashpoint for conflict. The current tensions between Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt over a new dam on the Nile in Ethiopia demonstrates awareness of that fact. Concern in the U.S. Midwest over the dropping water table in the Ogallala aquifer is another example. It is true that more potable water can be extracted from salt water, but at great energy cost and negative impact on ocean life as salinization increases. It is also true that, in addition to curbing immigration-driven population growth, the United States must end inefficient and profligate water usage practices.

Fundamentally, as population increases, water per capita decreases. With that in mind, all who accept responsibility for our impact on future generations should think twice about accepting the arguments for increasing immigration as a means to maintain or increase population size. Reducing population increase, or allowing the population to decrease, is a banner that should be raised by all concerned environmentalists.

About Author


Jack, who joined FAIR’s National Board of Advisors in 2017, is a retired U.S. diplomat with consular experience. He has testified before the U.S. Congress, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform and has authored studies of immigration issues. His national and international print, TV, and talk radio experience is extensive (including in Spanish).