Immigration policy is a widely-debated topic in the U.S. public policy arena today. Yet one key aspect of the consequences of immigration has been largely neglected: its ecological impacts. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 82% of the United States’ projected population growth in coming decades will be caused by post-2010 immigration. This population growth will have important ecological consequences, yet U.S. immigration policy is made with little discussion of them. Meanwhile, conservationists develop plans to abate pollution, manage protected areas, or protect threatened species, that simply take continued rapid population growth as a given.
From time to time, conservation-minded citizens have argued that the federal government should perform an Environmental Impact Statement on U.S. immigration policy. For political reasons this is unlikely to happen, so a small group of researchers has taken the lead to develop one. We believe an EIS on U.S. immigration policy will be a powerful tool to help researchers organize their thinking about U.S. population growth, and to help the public and policymakers understand and create better immigration policy. An EIS is a particularly appropriate format for doing so, since its standard structure allows for the intelligent comparison of a wide range of reasonable alternatives, while emphasizing the element of choice.
Initial demographic projections suggest that choices from among a range of possible immigration scenarios will make a large difference to the size of the U.S. population in 2100. Specifically, under a zero net immigration projection, the current U.S. population of 315 million grows to 377 million people by 2100; setting immigration at a little less than one million annually (the current legal level) instead generates a population of 571 million people by 2100; while increasing annual immigration to two million annually generates a projection of 854 million people by 2100.
As the project progresses, the Immigration Policy EIS will analyze the ecological impacts of different U.S. population sizes in six key areas: urban sprawl and farmland loss; water demands and withdrawals from natural systems; greenhouse gas emissions and resultant climate change; habitat loss and impacts on biodiversity; energy demands and resultant air and water pollution; and the international ecological impacts of U.S. immigration policies. Initial analyses suggest that immigration-driven population growth will significantly increase wildlife habitat loss; significantly increase water withdrawals from rivers and streams; and significantly undermine efforts to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, both in the U.S. and worldwide.