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Notes from the Editors

No argument is more likely to seriously injure the fragile alliance between environmentalists and communities of color – and the growing environmental justice movement which so many have worked so hard to build – than the debate over U.S. immigration policy. Already on the defensive about the white, upper-class male character of their leadership and their behind-the-scenes role in negotiating policies with which low-income communities must live, environmentalists are now accused of legitimizing a racist anti-immigrant movement. Their response is that people of color and social justice advocates for immigrants' and women's rights do not take seriously the global population explosion and its inevitable damage to the earth and all its inhabitants.

This topic is especially hard for our budding movement because it leads us back to the existential values that motivate our work and thus becomes personal. For example, while researching this special issue of Race, Poverty and the Environment, we've noticed a stark, and we think class-based, difference in the language that people use to discuss population and immigration. Those who want to restrict immigration and those who are intensely focused on increases in fertility talk about immigrants in terms of insect infestation. They think about the land they have fought to preserve, and like fanners they fear the "swarms" and "hordes" and the "influx" of immigrants they believe will destroy it. Or, they use water metaphors, describing the "flood" of immigrants "washing" over the border. The term "carrying capacity" which likens Earth to a boat has this same flood imagery.

People who are fighting for economic or cultural survival and those who spend their lives fighting against systemic poverty and discrimination don't imagine immigrants that way. In fact, they imagine themselves as the immigrants they or their parents recently were. They see themselves huddled in a sewer pipe waiting to sneak across the border or as refugees, running from death squads out to murder every voice of opposition. They think of twenty years of toil in an urban sweat shop or a frightened widow waiting for years to join her only child in the U.S. The women's eyes well up as they identify with the young Puerto Rican woman tricked into signing a sterilization permit she didn't understand. Overcoming this tremendous difference in perception and language will be difficult.

These stark differences were aired earlier this year at the first conference of EDGE - The Alliance of Ethnic and Environmental Groups. Over 200 people, a majority of them people of color, listened to four thoughtful presentations on population and immigration, tried hard to grapple with these issues, and discovered the enormity of the rift. The text of those speeches forms the core of this special issue.

We've done a lot of talking to friends and allies in both movements to try to understand the arguments and find the boundaries of the debate. Social justice activists claim that some environmentalists find it easier to close the borders to this nation which uses many more times the energy and raw materials than any of the developing countries from which immigrants come, rather than work to change consumption patterns and industrial practices in the developed world. They claim also that such environmentalists undermine their own ends by refusing to confront the global causes of increased fertility and immigration - the loss of agricultural land by indigenous people, unemployment caused by some ripple in the world market, poverty, debt and the disempowerment of women; Confronting these causes would mean that environmental activists had joined social justice activists in working to change U.S. foreign policy and trade relations that enforce global inequality.

Environmentalists who advocate for strict U.S. immigration policies acknowledge that the social justice community is right about the discrepancy in resource use and right about the racism and disregard for human rights that characterizes the history of U.S. immigration and population control policy. They insist, however, that social justice activists will hurt those they wish to defend, that the focus on unequal resources and coercive population policies helps to legitimize the right ' wing agenda of economists like Julhn Simon, author of The Ultimate Resource, who advocate for unrestricted immigration in order to create a larger pool of workers and thus lower U.S. wages. Further, some environmentalists claim that there isn't t i e to correct the global economic structures that lead to rising fertility rates in the underdeveloped world before the United States will be completely degraded by further development and industrial growth. Last, they claim that to accuse them of racism is to cut off all debate.

Clearly, the editors of this journal come down on the side of the social justice advocates. Most of the pieces we've reprinted here try to fill out the argument that environmentalists would do much more to stop the global rise in fertility if they brought their considerable clout to the international struggle to democratize economic decision-making and control the behavior of corporations. We do agree, however, with environmentalists who say that those fighting against a strict U.S. immigration policy and immigrant bashing often fail to acknowledge that there is a serious global increase in fertility that accompanies the increased economic inequalities and that this global increase must be confronted.

We've tried here to be solution-oriented and that is why we chose to publish an excerpt of Francis Moore Lappe and Rachel Schurman's Taking Population Seriously. It is five years old, but it’s the best thing we've found that talks in specifics about what kinds of economic and health measures can lower fertility. The piece "Why Migration" by Saskia Sassen fills out part of the economic information we need to understand the global pressures that now make migration the only choice for so many people. We searched in vain for a piece that would inform us about how much our own economic behavior and consumption is dependent on immigrant labor. How much would a head of lettuce, a new dress or a redwood deck cost if it weren't for the criminally cheap labor of immigrants?

The excerpt we reprint here from Angela Davis' Women Race and Class is several years old also, but for us it's the most powerful account of the racist and coercive population policies that have brought us to the place where even the phrase "family planning" is so tainted as to be almost unusable. Which brings us back to language. Our movement can and must talk this through and in doing so create a new language to use together to fight our common battle to save the Earth and its people. Some who are clearly doing that are those in the Sierra Club who are working to change the Club into one that is part of the movement for ecological justice and takes on the globalization of the economy and poverty. We are grateful for their help in investigating the policy battles in the Sierra Club. We hope they and all of our readers will find this special issue to be part of that effort.   


 Population & Immigration       ?õ¬?       Vol. 4 No. 2      ?õ¬?       Summer 1993

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