Environmental Justice and Immigration

Published on January 17th, 2017

Back in 1994, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, entitled “Executive Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations.”

This executive order mandates all federal agencies to “identify and address the disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of their actions on minority and low-income populations, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law.”

Poorer communities and communities of color had long been subjected to higher levels of unhealthy toxins in their air and water from nearby polluting economic activities, “from dairy operations in the Central Valley to oil refining in the Bay Area to port operations in Los Angeles,” writes Caroline Farrell in the Sacramento Bee.

Port of Long Beach.


In a landmark case, in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, the Mothers of East Los Angeles famously and successfully opposed a proposed incinerator that was to be sited in the city of Vernon.

In California, Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) prepared under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) must address the potential for proposed projects to unfairly impact minority and low-income populations.

Similarly, on the national scale, Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) developed under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) also examine the possible environmental effects of proposed actions on vulnerable communities with less of a voice and less political clout than wealthier communities. The well-connected wealthy can often successfully mount “Not in My Backyard” (NIMBY) campaigns against proposed projects which they deem undesirable, unsightly, polluting or potentially damaging to their property values.

Notably, EISs prepared under NEPA must also consider the socioeconomic impacts of proposed projects, including effects on job creation, the unemployment rate, crime levels, community cohesion and social well-being.

The “Father of Environmental Justice” is Professor Robert D. Bullard, Ph.D., a former U.S. Marine and now Dean of the Barbara Jordan – Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University. In 1979, Bullard’s attorney wife represented black residents of Houston in their fight against a municipal landfill proposed to be sited next to their neighborhood, in a case that was the first of its kind in the United States. Bullard served as an expert witness in that lawsuit.

Robert D. Bullard, “Father of Environmental Justice” and Dean of the Barbara Jordan – Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University.
Photo: Brittani Flowers

In the 1980s, Dr. Bullard expanded his research into environmental discrimination across the American South, focusing on communities in Texas, Louisiana and Alabama, finding clear evidence of disparities in the health and environmental hazards to which African-American communities are exposed compared to their white counterparts.

In recognition of his pioneering work, the National Wildlife Federation awarded Bullard its Conservation Achievement Award in 1990, while the Sierra Club bestowed its coveted John Muir Award upon him in 2013.

A prime example of federal actions that disproportionately and adversely impact disadvantaged blacks, browns and less-educated whites are immigration decisions that flood their communities with large numbers of unskilled and low-skilled immigrant labor.

The research of Harvard economics professor George Borjas and others clearly shows that minority and low-income communities have been heavily affected by mass immigration and paltry immigration enforcement in recent decades. U.S. immigration policy has in effect amounted to a large-scale, backdoor redistribution scheme, transferring income and wealth from the have-nots to the haves in our society. It is atrocious.

A 2008 report of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, entitled “The Impact of Illegal Immigration on the Wages and Employment Opportunities of Black Workers,” concluded:

“Illegal immigration to the United States in recent decades has tended to depress both wages and employment rates for low-skilled American citizens, a disproportionate number of whom are black men. Expert economic opinions concerning the negative effects range from modest to significant.”

In 2016, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a report called “The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration,” and the findings once again addressed the adverse effects of today’s massive immigration levels on America’s workforce. In reviewing the NAS findings, Dr. Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) commented that it documents once more that:

"Immigration is primarily a redistributive policy, transferring income from workers to owners of capital and from taxpayers to low-income immigrant families.”

Some environmentalists have long argued that an EIS needs to be conducted on the nation’s immigration policy to reveal its demographic, socioeconomic and environmental consequences. Late in 2016, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) filed just such a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and CAPS is a party to that suit.

In a rational world, the Democrats, liberals and mainstream environmentalists who claim to be so supportive of environmental justice would also be supportive of an EIS on immigration rates and enforcement. They would also support reducing immigration rates and increasing enforcement if the EIS showed significant adverse impacts of today’s mass immigration and nonenforcement on America’s minority, poorest and most vulnerable communities.

But we don’t live in a rational world.

Yesterday, I blogged about how the open-borders mentality of contemporary black and Hispanic elites is sharply at odds with the opinions of such civil rights icons as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Cesar Chavez, Clarence B. Jones and Barbara Jordan, to say nothing of an earlier generation of legendary black trailblazers like Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois.

Each of these leaders – revered by rank-and-file blacks and Latinos as well as elites – opposed open borders, illegal immigration and/or mass immigration.

But contemporary elites continue to revere the legacies of King, Abernathy, Chavez, Jones, Jordan and the like not because of their sensible outlooks on immigration but in spite of them. Nowadays, de facto open-borders elites openly revile the views of their own heroes on immigration.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) wore almost exactly this expression
as she lit into me in 1999 after a congressional hearing on immigration.


I have seen this many times in print and broadcast media, but I also experienced it firsthand during an extremely unpleasant encounter I had with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) in 1999 right after an immigration hearing on Capitol Hill. Noticing how disdainful she was of those hearing witnesses who were immigration restrictionists, I approached her as the session ended and in a friendly tone (befitting the former Peace Corps Volunteer I was) – certainly not a reproachful tone – I said to her that the late Barbara Jordan was also an immigration restrictionist.

She glared back at me and then upbraided me in a harsh tone for having the effrontery to think that I had any understanding at all of what the great Barbara Jordan believed in and advocated. I don’t think I’m exaggerating in remembering this encounter as a veritable “tongue lashing.” I was taken aback at her sheer venom.

For Democratic politicians, dogmatic support for “immigrants’ rights” and essentially open borders has become such an article of faith that they have become completely inflexible to any other view. They support open borders with closed minds.
It is this close-mindedness that prevents them from seeing the impacts of mass immigration and illegal immigration on the most vulnerable members of our own society. And prevents them from truly pursuing authentic environmental justice.

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