FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from
(DV) Hall: We, the People, You the Rest...and the Sierra Club (Part I)







We the People, You the Rest… and the Sierra Club
Part I: The Country and the Club
by Lee Hall
May 2, 2005

Send this page to a friend! (click here)


Notwithstanding the Statue of Liberty’s expansive call, the people of the United States do, as a matter of national law, restrict immigration. Debates over who will and who won’t be accepted run fiercely through the nation’s history. No area of social life is untouched by the matter; and lately, the topic of migration has found its way into environmentalists’ debates.


In early 2004, immigration foes sued the Sierra Club, the nation’s largest environmental organization, as part of their bid to secure most of the fifteen seats of its board of directors. With five seats open for votes, the Los Angeles Times described the suspense:  “Three prominent immigration control advocates -- UCLA astronomy professor Ben Zuckerman, Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug LaFollette, and Paul Watson, leader of the group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, already had won seats to the board in recent years, putting majority control within the grasp of the dissidents in this year’s election.” [1]  And the immigration debate had already struck an ominous note. After winning a seat in 2002, Ben Zuckerman reportedly gave other board members an article claiming that migrants spread disease and crime in the U.S., facilitated by “Hispandering politicians.” [2] The article came from, a site named after Virginia Dare, the first white child born in a U.S. colony. [3]


The restrictionist Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) encouraged readers to hustle their $25 fees right to the Sierra Club in order to gain membership and have a hand in building the board. [4] Former Colorado governor Richard Lamm, who was then running for the Sierra Club board, has also chaired the FAIR advisory board. [5] Sierra Club leaders became increasingly nervous about intermeddling by the Center for American Unity, Coloradans for American Immigration Reform,, the National Alliance (“ideology from a white racial perspective”), the National Immigration Alert and White Politics Inc. [6]  The plot thickened as a hunting organization urged its members to join the Sierra Club, in order to counter board member Paul Watson, who not only argues for immigration restriction but is also a vocal animal protectionist. [7]


Frank Morris, former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, appeared as a board candidate in 2004, stating that “it is really important that I point out what is obvious to most African-Americans but unfamiliar to most other Americans. That is the fact that high flows of immigrants into the American labor supply have been an important part of the long history of American racism against African-Americans in the U.S.” [8]  Former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm and entomologist David Pimentel joined Morris as new board candidates. [9] “Immigration is the ultimate environmental issue,” Lamm stated. [10] And although Pimentel’s candidacy statement listed such pesticide, soil degradation, water pollution, invasive species and energy use as the key environmental issues, the Cornell professor is also director of the restrictionist Carrying Capacity Network [11], and has expressed the fear that California, due to the “high immigration rate, both legal and illegal” will, by 2035, “approximately double to 64 million, if current population growth continues!” [12] 


Keeping the Wretched Refuse at Bay


In 1979, John Tanton founded FAIR, now the largest U.S. immigration restrictionist group. [13]  Key financers are the heirs to the Mellon Bank fortune; Richard Mellon Scaife also played a key role in starting the Heritage Foundation. [14] Dr. Tanton, long active in mainstream environmentalism, chaired the Sierra Club’s national Population Committee in the early 1970s. [15] According to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Tanton had something akin to a conversion when he came across The Camp of the Saints, a lurid, racist novel written by Frenchman Jean Raspail that depicts an invasion of the white, Western world by a fleet of starving, dark-skinned refugees. Tanton helped get the novel published in English and soon was promoting what he considered the book’s prophetic argument. “Their [Third World] ‘huddled masses’ cast longing eyes on the apparent riches of the industrial west,” Tanton wrote in 1975. “The developed countries lie directly in the path of a great storm.” [16]

Over a decade later, Tanton posed the question, “Can homo contraceptivus compete with homo progenitiva if borders aren’t controlled?” [17] And in the mid-nineties, Tanton was backing efforts to make immigration a Sierra Club election issue. [18]


Today, the Sierra Club takes no formal position on the question. Yet in our political climate, neutrality is a position, and not a particularly generous one.  To control immigration, the U.S. Congress applies methods that have disproportionately impeded entrance and naturalization of people classified as non-white, poor, or political non-conformists. Barring non-citizens “likely at any time to become public charges” -- the most common substantive form of exclusion -- hardly seems a fit for a group whose mission involves preserving lands that all are free to enjoy.


People need the valve of free movement to ease the tension of political sturm und drang, and the interest of most human beings in striving to live up to our capacities leads us to seek chances to escape poverty, persecution, war, and natural disasters. But arguably the main reason to allow migration, in an era when U.S. capital is displacing millions around the globe, is justice. Climate change brings to the forefront one aspect of that dynamic.


Courting Disaster


Predicted temperature rises, following in the wake of decades of wealth-creation through the burning of fossil fuels, threaten to wreak overwhelming havoc. The United States is responsible for disproportionate amounts of excess greenhouse gases; yet, together with Australia, it has courted disaster by undermining the relevant international emissions limits. [19]  Already, Bikeman island, of the Kiribati group of Pacific islands, is submerged. [20]  Such changes are poised to accelerate. [21]  Climatologists who met at the British government’s conference in February 2005 heard that a rise in global temperatures of just 2.1 degrees Celsius (3.8 Fahrenheit), almost certain to happen this century, will confront as many as three billion people with water stress. [22] In such a case, people will be migrating for their very lives. But where are they to go? What is the environmentalist’s logical reason for agreeing that they go somewhere else, but not here? Such questions must be asked in an informed setting. Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope has acknowledged this need, writing that “[i]mmigration restrictions don’t solve environmental problems, they merely shift them elsewhere.” [23]


The National Research Council of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences provides confirmation of this position, noting that “immigration involves primarily a redistribution of the world’s population, not an absolute increase,” and additionally stating: 


Indeed, since the fertility of immigrants tends to decline after they come to the United States, total world population will be slightly lower…From a world perspective, (negative) environmental effects in the United States may be counterbalanced by possible (positive) effects in the sending countries that are losing population. Total consumption by immigrants will typically be higher in the United States than in the places they left (which, after all, is one reason they immigrated), but efforts to abate environmental effects at any given level of consumption may also be higher in the United States. [24]


A critical question, then, is how to transcend a lifestyle based on fossil fuels, animal agribusiness, deforestation and disposable plastics.  Some immigrants embrace this lifestyle, likely because it’s wrapped in the notion of the American dream rather than the environmental nightmare it really is. Moreover, flashy fast-food restaurants proliferating throughout the world promote it as palatable, and turn environmental neglect into a badge of affluence.  The energies of our environmentalists would be more effectively focused on curbing this national vice, rather than on campaigning in vain against the aspirations of human beings in motion.


The Blowback of Fairness


A general agreement to advocate for fair trade policies -- decided upon in a way that takes seriously the input of those in the global south whom they are designed to impact -- would be a critical step, as higher wages for workers in financially poorer countries would help to reduce the intense economic pull of people across U.S. borders. Come mid-century, the United States will retire the youngest members of its baby-boom work force. [25]  In contrast to reliance on adjustments in the birth rate amongst the U.S.-born while barring migrants, fair trade and liberal migration would offer sensible, just ways to anticipate demand for workers.


Neither fair trade nor liberal migration policies would automatically end racism; but both would play significant roles in answering Frank Morris’s concerns about displacement of African-American workers. Together, such policies offer a positive alternative to campaigns that undermine the long struggle to end racial or ethnic profiling -- a struggle that immigration enforcement has eroded in recent times.


In short, if a policy can be used as fuel for hate, it’s probably not green. And yet, although their efforts to control the Sierra Club’s board were foiled again over the past two years, the restrictionists’ efforts continue. [26] They showed up again on the Sierra Club’s 2005 ballot, and one of their recent efforts included support for a new ballot measure designed to move the Sierra Club in the direction of advocating greater restrictions upon immigration into the United States. [27] The mood of the nation, combined with the persistence of restrictionists, would suggest that they could yet secure significant backing. [28]


This is the first part in a two-part series. 

Next:  Part II -- Where Does Animal Advocacy Come In?


Lee Hall teaches immigration as a member of the Adjunct Faculty of Law of Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, and is Legal Director of Friends of Animals in Darien, Connecticut. Lee can be reached at: Priscilla Feral and Raj Patel made key suggestions during the writing of this article.


Other Articles by Lee Hall


* Refocus Seal Intervention Where It Belongs: Government Subsidies
Globalizing Homeland Security Part II: Before and After Tuesday

* Globalizing Homeland Security (Part One): Doing Time for the Towers
* Blood on the Campaign Trail
* Bringing Social Justice to the Table
* People for the Exploitative Treatment of Arabs?
* Fit To Be Tamed




[1] In early 2004, candidates Richard Lamm, David Pimentel, and Frank Morris sued the Club in San Francisco Superior Court, alleging that Club leaders broke the California Corporations Code by agreeing to mail a notice with ballots essentially warning of a takeover attempt. The dissenting candidates later withdrew their suit, in order to avoid a countersuit by the Club.  


[2]Hostile Takeover,” SPLC Intelligence Report, Issue 113, Spring 2004 (quoting Sierra Club past president J. Robert Cox).


[3] Peter Brimelow, “Why VDARE.COM/The White Doe?


[4] Bill Berkowitz, “Sierra Club Shenanigans,” Working Assets Online (18 Feb. 2004).


[6] Ben Adler, “Sierra Club Votes for Its Future,” The Nation (posted online 13 Apr. 2004). Glen Martin, “Environmentalists Renew Bitter Fight over Controlling U.S. Immigration,” S.F. Chronicle (11 Feb. 2004) at A1, reports a Sierra Club spokesperson as saying that about 20 racist groups -- including, and the National Coalition of White Writers -- urged their members to join the Sierra Club in order to vote.


[7] Steven Rosenfeld, “Population Bombshell,”, 5 Feb. 2004 (referring to Fur Commission USA).


[8] Ibid.


[9] Ibid. Richard Lamm has asserted that Latin American and other immigrants create a “splintered society” due to their refusal to assimilate. See, e.g., Richard D. Lamm & Gary Imhoff, The Immigration Time Bomb: The Fragmenting of America (1985) at 76-98.


[10] Richard D. Lamm,Sierra Club under Siege? No: Immigration Should Be a Concern,” Denver Post.


[11] See “What is Carrying Capacity Network?” Dr. LaFollette’s role as an advisory board member of the same entity has also raised eyebrows. A look at this group’s Web site alerts the visitor to numerous articles on the purported health and economic dangers of “mass immigration” and “illegal aliens.”


[12] David Pimentel and Kelsey A. Hart, “Rapid Population Growth in California: A Threat to Land and Food Production,” published by Diversity Alliance for a Sustainable America (undated).


[13]The Puppeteer,” SPLC Intelligence Report (Issue 106, Summer 2002).


[14] Ibid. FAIR’s budget for the year 2000 was $4.2 million; however, the majority of the year’s donations were provided by just six benefactors. Scaife family foundations provided some $1.4 million to FAIR from 1986-2000. As the Southern Poverty Law Center observes, other major donations have been tied to white supremacy groups ($1.2 million, for example, from the Pioneer Fund between 1985 and 1994).


[15] Tanton also presided over the group Zero Population Growth in the mid-1970s and served as Chair of its Immigration Study Committee from 1973 to 1975. Federation for American Immigration Reform, “About FAIR: Board of Directors.”


[16] “The Puppeteer,” note 13 above.


[17] Memo to WITAN IV Attendees from John Tanton (10 Oct. 1986), cited in the attachment to SPLC’s “The Puppeteer”.


[18] “The Puppeteer,” note 13 above.


[19] Reuters, “Kyoto Debate Heats Up in Australia,” CNN.Com (16 Feb. 2005).


[20] Curtis A. Moore, “Awash in a Rising Sea: How Global Warming Is Overwhelming the Islands of the Tropical Pacific,Int’l Wildlife (cover story, Jan.-Feb. 2002).


[21] In 2004, an independent panel for the World Bank, after assessing environmental and human rights impacts of the Bank’s investments in gas, coal, oil, and mining, recommended phasing out investments in fossil fuels over the next eight years. See Draft World Bank Group Management Response to ‘Striking a Better Balance: The World Bank Group and Extractive Industries -- The Final Report of the Extractive Industries Review’” (4 Jun. 2004). And regarding a report they were commissioned to carry out for the Pentagon, Peter Schwartz, CIA consultant and former head of planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and Doug Randall of the California-based Global Business Network, urged that climate change “should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a U.S. national security concern.”  


[22] George Monbiot, “Mocking All Our Dreams,” [Johannesburg] Mail & Guardian Online (22 Feb. 2005).


[23] Carl Pope, “Ways & Means: Moving On; Lessons of the Immigration Debate” (July 1998).


[24] See James P. Smith & Barry Edmonston (eds.), National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, “The New Americans: Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration” (1997) at 99. Compare the statement of Sierra Club director Carl Pope, who notes that the United States “has the highest fertility rate in the industrialized world, the highest rate of teen pregnancy, and …more unplanned pregnancies than we have immigrants -- 1.3 million versus 1 million.” Pope adds: “Bringing down these scandalous numbers would give the rest of the world a model, not a slap in the face.” Pope, “Lessons of the Immigration Debate,” note 23 above.


[25] Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, “The New Americans: Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration (1997)” at 76, The National Academies Press.


[26] Results made public in April 2004 showed that more than 22% of the members voted to select the governing board; candidates backed by the club’s leaders received more than 110,000 votes apiece; in contrast, Richard Lamm, whom the Los Angeles Times deemed the best-known of the insurgents, received 13,090 votes. Miguel Bustillo, “Anti-Migrant Slate Rejected by Sierra Club,”  Los Angeles Times (22 Apr. 2004), at A12 (noting that Sierra Club president Larry Fahn “conceded that anti-immigration candidates were unlikely to give up their fight”).


[27] Groundswell Sierra press release, “Breaking News:  Sierra Club Ballots en Route to Sierra Club Members” (March 2005). A 1998 membership vote pushed by anti-immigration activists inside the Sierra Club, led by Alan Kuper, the chair of the Ohio chapter’s Population-Environment committee and a 2005 board candidate, showed 40% of Club members supporting the immigration restriction proposal over a board-sponsored alternative.  Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization (SUSPS), “Sierra Club Election Report:  SUSPS Population-Immigration Ballot Question (25 Apr. 1998).


[28] Worth noting is Proposition 200, an Arizona ballot initiative which passed in November 2004 with 56% of the votes. The measure -- similar to provisions under consideration in several other states -- subjects state and local employees who fail to refer undocumented migrants to federal authorities to four months in jail and a $750 fine. FAIR reportedly spent nearly half a million dollars to place Proposition 200 on the ballot.