October 2, 2007

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff blamed immigrants yesterday for environmental degradation near the border. “Illegal migrants really degrade the environment. I’ve seen pictures of human waste, garbage, discarded bottles and other human artifact in pristine areas,” Chertoff told a reporter from the Associated Press. “And believe me, that is the worst thing you can do to the environment.”

Chertoff’s remarks contradict studies and analyses of the environmental groups like the Sierra Club, which issued a report stating that the Bush Administration’s border wall will “put immigrants’ lives at risk, routing them deep into the arid deserts of Arizona where water is limited and a fragile ecosystem lives in a delicate balance” (also see this great report in the Texas Observer by my colleague Mary Jo McConhahay). And last week, Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club chairman Jim Chapman told the Houston Chronicle, “The fence, even though it’s not continuous, is an unmitigated disaster for wildlife along the river”. Chertoff also made no mention of the reports and intense criticisms of the flaws and delays in the construction of the border fence by Boeing and other contractors who continue receiving multi-billion dollar payments on the project.

These most recent statements blaming immigrants for environmental degradation are important in that they mark an institutionalization of themes and ideas long promulgated by some of the more radical elements of the anti-imimgrant right. Groups linked to anti-immigrant godfather John Tanton have, for many years, taken out radio and TV ads and issued reports blaming immigrants for major environmental problems. The Sierra Club itself was threatened with a takeover led by anti-immigrant activists with advanced degrees and considerable prestige. Though their Sierra Club coup failed, Tanton allies UCLA physicist Dr. Ben Zuckerman, and Stuart Hurlbert, a 2003 National Academy of Sciences award recipient and fellow of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science, continue longstanding efforts to mainstream the most extreme anti-immigrant ideas about the environment.

In addition to being another sign that immigrants are the political gift that keeps on giving to to political and economic elites stewarding the sinking ship of state, Chertoff’s unprecedented comments also signal the success of the environmental flank of the anti-immigrant movement. Ojo on this.



  1. Chertoff’s remarks are completely disengenuous. He claims that the wall, complete with bulldozing wildlife refuges and putting up barriers that will stop the movement of pronghorn, ocelots, and other threatened and endangered species, will be good for the environment. Then he says that if anyone challenges the wall he will use the Real ID Act to waive all environmental laws. If the wall is so beneficial there should be no need to waive the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, National Environmental Policy Act, clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and others, as he has already done in parts of California and Arizona. Go to for more information, then write your members of Congress and tell them not to build the border wall.

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