Breaking: Immigration Deal Disaster for Environment, Workers
by Democratic Courage, Thu May 17, 2007 at 10:32:01 AM EDT
By Glenn Hurowitz
Cross-posted at Democratic Courage blog.
Senate Democrats and Republicans have concluded an "immigration reform" deal that will be a disaster for the environment and workers. To placate extremist anti-immigrant activists, Democrats agreed to go ahead and finance construction of 370 miles of fencing along the Mexican border. The double-layered concrete wall will cut off endangered wildlife like jaguars, Sonoran pronghorn antelope, and the ferruginous pygmy owl from their habitat and divide several wildlife refuges that local conservationists fought for decades to create. Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff has made the situation worse by waiving all environmental laws to expedite construction of the wall.
But the wall may be just one part of the environmental double whammy likely from any grand bargain on immigration. There's significant evidence that the influx of people from less developed countries like Mexico to developed countries like the United States is helping fuel the United States's rapid increase in global warming pollution by increasing the number of people partaking of America's high consumption habits.
It's also one force driving the sprawl eating up the countryside in cities everywhere. But most mainstream environmental groups have sat outthe immigration debate. The issue has historically divided the movement between those who sympathize with immigrants' hunger for a better life (and who point out that the only reason immigration has such a negative effect on the planet is because the American way of life is so polluting to beging with) and harder core activists for whom environmental concerns always come first. National environmental groups are wary of reviving these fights. With environmentalists largely sitting out the fight, many usually pro-environment Democrats are all too happy to ignore these hidden costs of immigration as they seek to placate immigration advocates and foes alike.
In addition to the environmental consequences of the deal, unions like SEIU are worried that it could drive down wages by shutting off a path to citizenship for workers - meaning that workers would just come here for minimum wage jobs and be forced to leave without having an opportunity to eventually take on higher paying work and, for instance, join or organize a union. Indeed, there are only likely to be two main beneficiaries to this bill: the contractors who get the billions of dollars needed to finance the wall, and corporate employers looking to drive wages down, expose workers to unsafe conditions, prevent workers from joining unions, terrorize workers to such an extent that when they spray them with pesticides or lop off a limb in a meat-packing plant they don't complain, and stop Democratic-leaning Latinos from becoming citizens lest they use their power to create a more progressive, worker-friendly, pro-environment society.