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For environmentalists, a growing split over immigration

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To environmentalists worried about population growth, people are people.

Even if they do their best to live lightly on the land, their rising numbers are a growing burden on Earth's resources. And whether they sing the "The Star-Spangled Banner" in English or in Spanish really doesn't matter.

As politicians and the public heatedly debate immigration, so, too, are environmental activists.

The flow of people into the United States is troubling some environmentalists for two reasons. First, more Americans means more people living in one of the world's most resource-consuming cultures. Second, there's new evidence that Hispanic women who move to the US have more children than if they stayed put.

"We've got to talk about these issues - population, birth rates, immigration," says Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which confronts whalers, seal hunters, and those who poach wildlife in the Galapagos Islands. "Immigration is one of the leading contributors to population growth. All we're saying is, those numbers should be reduced to achieve population stabilization."

Mr. Watson also was a Sierra Club board member.Last month, he resigned in protest just before his three-year term ended because he thinks the organization ignores immigration as a major factor in population growth.

Beneath the dispute is a political subtext. Environmentalists generally see themselves as political progressives; they don't want to be bedfellows with anti-immigrant activists sometimes labeled as xenophobic or racist. Very few greens raise a supportive fist when they see "Stop the Invasion" billboards sprouting from California to Florida. For the most part, they skirt the issue.

"The leadership and the membership have said we want to be neutral on this," says Eric Antebi, national press secretary for the Sierra Club in San Francisco, one of the largest and oldest grassroots environmental groups in the country. It's a global issue, says Mr. Antebi, caused by environmental degradation and poverty that need to be solved so people won't have to look elsewhere for a better life. Other large environmental groups take the same position.


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