Ads Warn That All Immigration Must Be Reduced

In recent years, some groups opposing illegal immigration say the public debate has strayed from their real cause — reducing all immigration, including legal. Now, they've started an ad campaign touting the risks of overpopulation. The ads warn that the U.S. faces environmental damage, increased congestion and threats to economic justice unless immigration is dramatically reduced.

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This year's presidential campaign has not turned out to focus too much on immigration. It's overshadowed by issues like John McCain's houses, Barack Obama's religion, and Sarah Palin's lipstick. Immigration opponents do not have a champion in either major party presidential nominee, but they have launched their own ad campaign.

Their goal is to reduce all immigration, even when it is legal, and their ads focus on the risks of overpopulation. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: Immigration is clearly an issue that cuts across party lines, but it's also true that the major groups opposing illegal immigration have cultivated a largely conservative following. Roy Beck, head of NumbersUSA, says this election season is a good time to change that.

Mr. ROY BECK (NumbersUSA): Certainly with the Democrats in ascendancy, it makes even more sense to make sure that you're not making just more conservative-leaning arguments but you're making arguments that maybe resonate a little more with liberals, such as environmental and economic justice issues.

LUDDEN: Thus the new ad sponsored by NumbersUSA, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, and several other like-minded groups. You may have seen them if you pick up magazines like The Nation, Harper's and the New Republic, or read the New York Times - hardly peddlers of anti-immigrant sentiment.

The ad suggests, in a wordy, moderate tone, that unchecked immigration will lead to a scarcity of resources, like water, even higher prices for food and gas, and crumbling infrastructure. And they play of recent Census Bureau projections which say the U.S. will add 100 million people in the next 30 years.

Mark Mather of the Population Reference Bureau says that's faster growth than previous projections, and immigration is a big factor.

Mr. MARK MATHER (Population Reference Bureau): If you just look at people coming into the country, immigration accounts for about 40 percent of population growth. But that's a little bit misleading because you also have to account for the fact that they're having kids once they arrive here.

LUDDEN: Including that, Mather says immigration will drive 60 percent or more of growth in coming decades. The rest of the calculation is based on mortality and fertility rates, and Roy Beck says no one suggests meddling with that.

Mr. BECK: And the one thing that you can change overnight, I mean, overnight - you could just tomorrow say starting next month we're not going to take the rate of 1.1 million official immigrants a year; we're going to start taking a traditional level of 250,000 a year.

Mr. FRANK SHARRY (America's Voice): These are nativists in three-piece suits who are smart enough to figure out how to present a face that looks like they're progressive-minded.

LUDDEN: Frank Sharry heads America's Voice, a pro-immigrant advocacy group. He contends the real issue for Numbers USA is the increasing diversity of the U.S. Sharry's among a number of activists who've labeled some of the groups sponsoring the ad campaign as hate groups. Roy Beck rejects that label and says nothing in the ads is racist.

In any case, Frank Sharry says the real problem isn't population but per capita consumption and he doubts the ads will work.

Mr. SHARRY: Oh no, I don't think Americans think that immigrants are the cause of McMansions and SUVs and big oil companies who are ravaging the environment. I just think Americans are much too smart for that.

LUDDEN: As NumbersUSA's Roy Beck sees it, both political parties have a vested interest in population growth - Republicans because it's good for big business; Democrats because they may gain lots of new voters. And on this, both Beck and Sharry may agree that a sudden cut in immigration is a political non-starter. But Beck hopes his new ads will at least get people thinking about it.

Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.

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