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How immigration reform can lead us to a stronger environmental movement

Two more environmental activists.
Salina Canizales
Hey, look, more environmental activists.

Philip Radford of Greenpeace and Bill McKibben of 350.org recently joined the growing crowd of people calling for comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship.

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.

Read more: Politics

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Love Thy Labor as Thyself

Why enviros should care about unions and collective bargaining

Photo: Andrew ButittaIn the past few weeks, we've seen the fiercest attacks in recent history on collective bargaining. We've also seen the dramatic responses of people taking to the Wisconsin statehouse and the streets to stand together for their rights. Why are some environmentalists among them, and why should all environmentalists join the fight?    On a straightforward level, unionized public workers maintain our parks, ensure our water is clean, and protect our air quality. Unions lead to longer-term employees and, in many cases, additional job commitment and higher quality services. Collective bargaining also leads to healthier workplaces. And when people …

Read more: Politics

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Lessons from the immigration-reform movement

Can the Gulf oil spill be environmentalists’ Arizona moment?

A May Day protest against Arizona’s immigration law.Photo courtesy th.omas via FlickrWithin a week of Arizona's new racial-profiling bill becoming law, the "1 MILLION Strong AGAINST the Arizona Immigration Law SB1070" group on Facebook climbed to nearly 1.3 million people. Via Facebook and emails and phone calls, I've been asked to attend vigils and marches, sign on to a boycott of Arizona, and show my support for comprehensive immigration reform. Meanwhile, even with an ongoing environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, I have yet to see similar organizing and energy from the environmental movement on Facebook (or anywhere else). …

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Immigrate expectations

Why environmentalists should get involved in immigration reform

How many enviros can you spot in this picture?Photo: Salina CanizalesI grew up in a family that sorted recyclables, reused containers until they were no longer reusable, and walked whenever and wherever we could. We turned off our lights and carefully monitored our energy consumption. We made sure that we didn't leave the water running, and my sisters and I competed to take the shortest showers possible. Our travel often took us to nature preserves and national parks, where we learned about the importance of wildlife and conservation. Sounds like a typical childhood for a kid in an environmentally conscious …