By Bianca Bruno
October 21, 2016
SAN DIEGO (CN) — Arizona conservation districts and others sued the Department of Homeland Security this week, claiming it is allowing immigrants to degrade the U.S. environment.
Joined by three "population stabilization" groups and the New Mexico Cattlegrowers' Association, the groups claim in their Oct. 17 lawsuit that Homeland Security "has turned a blind eye" to immigration's impact on the environment, by allowing foreign nationals to enter and settle in the United States.
Lead plaintiff Whitewater Draw Natural Resource Conservation District et al. say the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that DHS analyze the environmental impacts of immigration pursuant, but it has performed no such review.
An environmental study would ensure that "decisions affecting the human environment are made with eyes wide open and in full view of the public" so the public can understand the impact of government actions on "natural resources that we all depend on," the groups say in the 86-page lawsuit.
They say Homeland Security adopted procedures for following NEPA in 2014, but the policies are toothless and "perpetuate itsblind spot to the manifold environmental consequences of its actions."
They cited research by retained expert Jessica Vaughn with the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C. think tank that describes itself as "low immigration,pro immigrant" on its website.
The lawsuit contains dozens of pages citing research on environmental impacts of immigration and anecdotal evidence from members of the environmental and population control groups, from California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Florida.
They seek an injunction to compel DHS to comply NEPA, and also say DHS violated the Administrative Procedure Act and its "fundamental obligation to engage in well-reasoned, non-arbitrary decision-making."
The groups cite 33 immigration actions that they say violate federal environmental laws and have caused environmental damage along the Southwest border. They say border residents' personal properties and communities have been environmentally degraded by immigrants, and that DHS' discretionary decisions on immigration have "encouraged illegal aliens to continue crossing the border."
Fred Davis, chairman of the Whitewater Draw district, owns a ranch 25 miles from the border. He says the ranch was a "quiet, peaceful place to live" before undocumented immigrants began crossing his property and permanently damaging native grasslands that are "protected plant life." He says he has picked up tons of trash and human feces on his property.
Other members of the plaintiff groups say they cannot enjoy hiking and camping near their homes due to overpopulation caused by unregulated immigration.
Plaintiff Californians for Population Stabilization claims that California's population growth stems from immigration and births to immigrants. It says its goal is to reduce immigration across the board, whether immigrants come to California and other states legally or not. One of its members is former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm, whom the lawsuit quotes: "What can have a greater environmental impact on our states and the nation than immigration?"
Californians for Population Stabilization says that despite the state's "progressive approach" to water and energy consumption and protecting the environment, those actions become moot because of population growth from foreign nationals. One member said he joined the population stabilization group after his 25-year-old son was hit and killed by a Honduran immigrant who received Temporary Protected Status from the government.
Others cite concern for native plants, open space and water and air quality in California. They say a California Department of Fish and Wildlife study stated that "habitat loss due to human population growth is the single biggest problem facing native plants and animals in California."
The 33 DHS actions to which the plaintiffs object include programs that allow undocumented immigrants to be released rather than detained because they say they fled terrorism; because they have a family member in the U.S. military and other reasons; because of humanitarian parole for Central American children and Haitian families; allowing victims and witnesses of crimes to stay in the country to testify attrial; and visas granted to victims of human trafficking.
They also object to what they call a DHS that allows immigrant college students to remain after graduating if they work in science, technology, engineering or math, the so-called STEM field.
Californians for Population Stabilization says population growth from immigrants in Silicon Valley comes with environmental costs.
The groups say DHS has completed just one environmental review of an action it took on immigration: a June 2014 study of unaccompanied immigrant children. The review found that housing, transportation, medical care and other services needed for the children would result in only "minor temporary impacts." They say that review failed to "take a hard look" at the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of settling those children.
Citing a 2015 Pew Research study that showed immigrants and their children and grandchildren account for the majority of U.S. population growth in the past five decades, the plaintiffs say immigration is eroding the U.S. environment.
They say projects to accommodate population growth include "harmful new infrastructure" such as public transit, airports, road widening and construction, and energy and water supply projects.
They say immigrants to the U.S. produce 482 million more tons of carbon dioxide emissions in this country than they would had they stayed in their home countries.
The plaintiffs include Hereford Natural Resource Conservation District, the Arizona Association of Conservation Districts, Californians for Population Stabilization, Scientists and Environmentalists for Population Stabilization, and Floridians for Sustainable Population.
They are represented by Julie Axelrod with the Immigration Reform Law Institute in Washington. Axelrod said by phone that anytime the government takes action that affects the environment, it needs to invite public comment. She called Homeland Security's failure to address environmental impacts of immigration a "blind spot."
"Most agencies will have some sort of process that's better than this, this is very unusual for an agency that does something so environmentally significant to miss the implications that what they're doing is environmentally impactful," Axelrod said.
Despite anecdotal evidence from the plaintiffs who seem to blame immigration for negative environmental impacts on the U.S., Axelrod said her clients do not take a position on whether or not immigrants should be allowed to settle in the United States, but simply want Homeland Security to analyze potential environmental impacts of immigration before taking action.
The Department of Homeland Security does not comment on pending litigation.