Immigration policies ignore Environmental Policy Act
Most Americans are sadly familiar with the tragic consequences of sanctuary cities. In sanctuaries, deportable illegal immigrants are released from jail, and some have gone on to commit crimes, including on occasion the murder of innocent citizens. The highest profile case made national headlines last year when five-time deported, seven-time convicted illegal alien Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez shot and killed Kate Steinle in San Francisco.
But sometimes aliens perpetrate crimes against the environment. According to The Washington Times, Angel Gilberto Garcia-Avalos, deported five times in the past four years, returned each time to steal cars, rob and violate weapon laws. Recently, Garcia-Avalos pleaded guilty to starting a fire in the Sequoia National Forest that burned 29,000 acres, took six weeks to contain and cost $60 million to fight.
Because of California’s Trust Act, which prohibits local law enforcement from cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and therefore guarantees sanctuary to criminal aliens, the Kern County jail was forced to release Garcia-Avalos. Shortly thereafter, wrote the Times, Garcia-Avalos, driving through the Sequoia National Park, hit a tree, and a spark from his muffler set off the blaze.
A Forest Service endangered species specialist told the Times that California’s persistent drought will make recovery “really challenging…it’s going to take decades and decades from a conifer standpoint to get back what you lost.” In a too-little, too-late move, authorities re-arrested Garcia-Avalos, and returned him to jail where he faces a slap on the wrist 13-month sentence.
The Garcia-Avalos case is an extreme, atypical example of how one illegal immigrant’s careless act had devastating consequences on the environment. But more broadly, allowing hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to come to the United States each year, along with an additional 1 million legal immigrants who arrive annually, presents a serious, mounting threat to the nation’s resources. Every additional person needs housing, transportation, water and energy. More people means more resource consumption, and creates more urban sprawl.
The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) has filed a suit on behalf of environmentalists and concerned citizens against the Department of Homeland Security for its failure to enforce the nation’s preeminent environmental law, the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), when it enacts immigration legislation. NEPA’s objective is to help public officials make enlightened decisions based on an understanding of environmental consequences, and to take actions that protect, restore and enhance the environment.
IRLI claims that when illegal immigrants cross the border in large numbers, they have environmental impact: in their wake, they destroy native species, pollute the water and destroy private property. Between 1990 and 2010, legal and illegal immigration contributed to a U.S. population increase of 61 million people. By 2060, the Census Bureau projects that total U.S. population will increase from today’s 325 million to nearly 417 million. Immigration will account for about 80 percent of that growth.
The federal government controls immigration levels and, pursuant to NEPA’s regulations, can limit them. But neither DHS, nor its predecessor agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), has ever committed to a single environmental review of its immigration-related actions. IRLI’s suit against DHS hopes to mandate that the federal government consider immigration-driven population growth in its future legislation.
A Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow, Joe Guzzardi is a plaintiff in the IRLI case. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.