All about the numbers

Immigration-control advocate highlights America’s unsustainable growth

Photo By Brittni Zacher

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As one of the first journalists in the nation devoted to covering environmental issues, Roy Beck chronicled an amazing college-driven movement that ultimately resulted in some of the most significant policies and agencies designed to protect human health and natural resources.

Within the few short years between the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the momentum drove Congress to establish the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and to pass scores of measures, such as the National Environmental Protection Act.

While many of the achievements of early environmental advocates continue today, Beck is working to shed light on an important issue he says has dropped off the agenda: U.S. population stabilization. Last week, his efforts brought him to Chico State, where he explained to students how his generation had failed them.

“You have inherited an America and an environment that is so much worse than the blueprint that all of us involved in the environmental movement of the ‘60s and ‘70 laid out,” said Beck, a keynote speaker for the annual This Way to Sustainability conference.

Beck said that back in 1970s, when the population hovered at around 203 million people, eco pioneers largely focused on fertility rates to stabilize growth. The idea was for Americans to control their numbers by adopting family sizes no greater than an average of 2.1 children. In a few generations, the population would level off at about 250 million and eventually recede.

Excellent in theory, the plan failed to consider how a federal immigration policy adopted just a few years earlier would factor into the issue.

“What we didn’t think about was that immigration would make a big difference, because immigration had not been a significant factor on population growth for over 40 years in the United States,” he said.

Beck is founder of NumbersUSA, a bipartisan immigration-reform foundation he established in 1997 after three decades of environmental reporting, including working as a congressional correspondent in Washington, D.C.

During his recent speech at Chico State, Beck complimented the students and the university on the work being done to educate the campus and the community about environmental issues—especially topics as controversial as population control.

“I’m not aware of any other university in America that is putting this kind of concentrated and broad look at sustainability issues as Chico State has in the last four years,” he said, referring to the fourth annual conference.

He went on to highlight fluctuations in immigration going back to the birth of the nation. Between 1776 and 1976, an average of 250,000 immigrants entered the country annually. Fast forward to 2007 and those numbers have risen to more than a million people each year.

As a result, the country is now home to 305 million Americans. Based on current birth and death rates, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates 439 million will live here by 2050. (These numbers do not factor in the estimated 8 million illegal immigrants currently living in the country).

“As you can see, we’re on a trajectory to never stabilize,” he said.

But that doesn’t have to be the case, said Beck, noting that policy makers could reduce that mid-century projection to 353 million by immediately cutting back immigration. Still, this best-case scenario translates into 50 million additional residents who are going to require transportation, sewage-treatment plants, shelter, food and water—a dwindling resource in California.

“We are going to paddle like crazy to achieve any kind of sustainability while adding 50 million people,” he said.

At the beginning of his hour-long speech, Beck said he hoped everyone in the audience would leave feeling offended in one way or another. He was obviously attempting to embark lightly into a subject he acknowledged is fraught with danger in the political world.

Moreover, he said there’s very little national will to even talk about it.

That wasn’t always the case, and Beck pointed to the late Barbara Jordan, a former U.S. representative and civil-rights leader who chaired the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform under President Bill Clinton, as a staunch reformer who didn’t pull any punches while testifying before Congress on the issue.

“She said high immigration is a profound tool of economic injustice and the most vulnerable Americans are hurt the worst,” Beck said.

Jordan suggested eliminating the jobs magnet to curb illegal immigration and eliminating chain migration, which allows legal immigrants to choose their relatives as the next immigrants. This system, Beck said, has cleared out villages throughout the world.

While the results of the presidential election may help buoy many environmental causes, he warned Barack Obama and George W. Bush are virtually identical when it comes to using government policy to force high population growth. Both Republicans and Democrats draw huge donations from corporations who rely on cheap labor and an increasing consumer base, he said.

Solving the problem, he said, will take a movement similar to the environmental movement of his generation, and decisive action.

“The only way to stabilize the population is to draw a line,” he said.