Response of Center for Immigration Studies to FWS-HQ-ES-2018-0009

By Julie Axelrod on September 24, 2018

September 24, 2018

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Division of Environmental Review
5275 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22041-3803

Response of Center for Immigration Studies, a non-partisan think tank in Washington, D.C., which examines the impact of immigration on U.S. Systems, to FWS-HQ-ES-2018-0009

Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires federal agencies to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to ensure their activities are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of listed species, or destroy or adversely modify their critical habitat. Unappreciated by the regulations implementing the ESA is the fact that among the federal activities that most jeopardize the continued existence of listed species and present the greatest chance of destroying or modifying their critical habitat are the implementation of legal immigration and amnesty programs. Federal agencies implement these programs, which currently include family based immigration, employment based immigration, the diversity visa program, long term non-immigrant visa programs, parole, asylum, refugees, temporary protected status, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, without any consultation with USFWS. Yet, both through inducing population growth, and through creating a rush for the border by large numbers of illegal aliens, these programs in fact do jeopardize the continued existence of listed species and cause adverse modification of their critical habitats.

Generally, environmental scientists believe that rapid human population growth is one of the chief threats to biodiversity — which is ultimately what the ESA is meant to protect. As sustainability expert Dr. Philip Cafaro wrote in an expert report commissioned for the case Whitewater Draw Natural Resources Conservation District, et al., v. Kristjen Nielsen, et al., 16-cv-2583, in the Southern District of California (in which the Center for Immigration Studies is challenging the government for its failure to do environmental analysis of immigration):

By all accounts, biodiversity (the variety of living things, comprehensively understood in terms of genetic diversity, species diversity and diversity of natural communities) is rapidly diminishing across the globe. The United Nation's Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity estimates that humanity could extinguish one out of every three species on Earth within the next one to two hundred years (SCBD 2010), while according to Raven et al. (2011): "biodiversity is diminishing at a rate even faster than the last mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous Period, 65 million years ago, with possibly two-thirds of existing terrestrial species likely to become extinct by the end of this century."

While paleontologists debate the causes of previous mass extinctions, the primary causes of the current one are clear: ever more people to consuming, degrading and appropriating ever more resources. The consensus among conservation biologists is that the five most important "direct drivers" of biodiversity loss are habitat loss, the impacts of alien species, over-exploitation, pollution, and global climate change (Primack 2014). All five direct drivers are themselves mainly caused by the "primary drivers" of increased human populations (Brashares et al. 2001, McKee et al. 2003) and increased human economic activity (Wood et al. 2000). According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the force of these extinction drivers increased immensely over the past century as human populations and human economies exploded in size (Reid et al. 2005). Subsequent research (Butchart et al. 2010, Steffen et al. 2015) bears out the MEA's further conclusion that the forces driving extinction are increasing in power, as societies become more populous and wealthy.

Conservation scientists agree that habitat loss is by far the number one threat to nonhuman species. For example, over 1400 species currently are listed as threatened or endangered in the U.S. under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In a thorough study of ESA information published in the U.S. Federal Register, D. S. Wilcove and colleagues found habitat degradation or loss implicated as a cause for 85% of threatened and endangered species in the United States, making habitat loss by far the number one cause of species endangerment (Wilcove et al. 1998).

Importantly, habitat loss is directly tied to overall human numbers. … the area of developed land—from which natural wildlife habitats have been permanently erased—in U.S. states is closely correlated with the population sizes of those states. The larger a state's population, the larger the area of developed land in that state.

In the United States today, immigration is the primary cause of national population growth. If immigration unfolds as the Census Bureau expects, the nation's population will increase from 325.5 million in 2017 to 403.7 million in 2060 — a 78.2 million (24 percent) increase in just four decades. If there were no net immigration the U.S. population would still be 3.4 million larger in 2060 than it is today. Therefore, 74.8 million or about 96 percent of the projected increase in the U.S. population by 2060 will be due to future immigration. (See Steven A. Camarota, "Projecting the Impact of Immigration On the U.S. Population", Center for Immigration Studies, 2018. Forthcoming.) Therefore, the immigration programs that drive population growth in the United States also drive threats to species diversity in the United States. At the very least, the agencies implementing these programs should be consulting with the USFWS.

One of the proposed changes by USFWS is an increased use of programmatic consultations to reduce the number of single, project-by-project consultations, streamline the consultation process, and increase predictability and consistency for action agencies. If the USFWS is intending to make an increased use of programmatic changes, it would be even more essential for the preservation of species on the endangered list to ensure that the agencies implementing immigration programs consult with the USFWS regarding likely impacts to federally listed species. Many of our nation's immigration programs are implemented by multiple agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Labor. Programmatic, interagency consultations with the USFWS before increasing the nation's population by importing millions of foreign nationals into the United States would do much to increase the federal government's awareness of how its immigration programs affect endangered species in the United States.

Sincerely,

Julie B. Axelrod
The Center for Immigration Studies
1629 K Street, NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20006
jba@cig.org