A Path Forward
By Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club
(This was first posted to the Sierra Club Executive Director’s blog, Coming Clean. We’re very excited that our partner Sierra Club has embraced immigration reform that includes a roadmap to citizenship. We look forward to working more with them as the immigration debates moves forward.)
My coauthor for today’s post is Sierra Club President Allison Chin.
In 1849, an eleven-year-old boy moved with his family to the United States. More than four decades later, that boy co-founded the Sierra Club and served as its president for the next 22 years. Like many great Americans, John Muir was an immigrant. It is only because he was able to take advantage of the opportunities in his adopted country that the Sierra Club exists at all.
Today, however, the American immigration system is broken. It forces approximately 11 million people to live outside the prevailing currents of our society. Many of them work in the fields, mop floors, care for other people’s children, and take low-wage jobs to support their families. Many work in jobs that expose them to dangerous conditions, chemicals and pesticides, and many more live in areas with disproportionate levels of toxic air and water pollution.
The 20 million Americans with family members whose legal status is in limbo share the Sierra Club’s concerns about climate and the environment. For example, our own polls indicate that Latinos support environmental and conservation efforts with even greater intensity than the average American: 90 percent of Latino voters favor clean energy over fossil fuels. A California study found that 74 percent of Asian-Americans, the fastest growing group in America, accept climate science. Yet, significant numbers of these stakeholders and change agents have been denied their civil rights in the public arena.
The Sierra Club is committed to partnering with all who share our urgent concerns about advancing our democracy and fighting the climate crisis. It is time for us to work together.
That is why the Sierra Club Board of Directors has voted to offer our organization’s strong support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Such a pathway should be free of unreasonable barriers and should facilitate keeping families together and uniting those that have been split apart whenever possible.
For the Sierra Club and the environmental movement to protect our wild America, defend clean air and water, and win the fight against climate disruption, we must ensure that the people who are the most disenfranchised and the most affected by pollution have the voice to fight polluters and advocate for climate solutions without fear.
This isn’t the first time that the Sierra Club has taken a stand on a critical issue. In 1993, the Club opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement, a controversial position, but one that has proven to be the right choice. We did not think it would be good for workers or the environment, and it hasn’t been. In fact, NAFTA has been a major driver of undocumented immigration into the U.S. from Mexico and Central America.
More recently, the Club has challenged the Real ID Act, which allows the Department of Homeland Security to waive 36 federal laws — including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Wilderness Act. That ill-conceived suspension of bedrock environmental laws has been used to construct border walls in the Southwest with little regard to their effect on wildlife and habitats nor their cost in human lives. Dan Millis, our Sierra Club Borderlands campaign organizer, was famously given a littering ticket by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for leaving life-saving bottles of water on federally protected land in the Sonoran desert.
We cannot solve either the climate crisis or our broken immigration system by acting out of fear or by supporting exclusion. One of our nation’s greatest strengths is the contribution that generations of immigrants have made to our national character. If we are serious about solving the climate crisis and protecting our democracy, then we need to work with the hardworking men and women who want to play by the rules and play a part in building a healthy, safe, and prosperous future for our country.