I see their leadership on this issue as a promising step. As I explained in Grist three years ago, there are many good reasons for environmentalists to be pro–immigrant rights. Yet it can still take courage for environmental leaders to talk about the important intersections between the green movement and the immigrant-rights movement.
As Radford points out, workers need stable immigration status to better fight pollution and hold politicians accountable: “Current immigration policy forces vulnerable communities to keep silent about corporate pollution for fear of having their lives and families torn apart," he writes. In my work with Service Employees International Union, I hear of migrant agricultural workers in Washington state who, due to cuts to child-care programs, have to take their children to the fields with them. The children are then exposed to high levels of pesticides, but their parents, because of their shaky immigration status, have little recourse to push for safer farming practices or organize for better child-care programs.
Being under constant threat of deportation, or having to wait anywhere from 15 to 30 years to bring family members to the U.S., undermines an immigrant’s ability to put down roots and engage on environmental issues. This has to change. With the challenges we face, we need to ensure that everyone can join together to push for a healthier, greener, and more sustainable world. And as McKibben points out, Latino immigrants in particular tend to be more concerned about climate change than other Americans and more likely to believe we have a moral responsibility to care for the environment.
So it makes great sense for environmentalists to support a path to citizenship. But it's not enough. We must go deeper.