Sierra Club Members Vote to Stay Neutral in the Immigration Debate

Times Staff Writer

Members of the Sierra Club voted overwhelmingly to stay out of the debate over U.S. immigration policies and elected a new slate of board members that ensures the venerable environmental group cannot face another takeover threat from immigration-control advocates for at least two years.

Club election results released Monday showed the membership endorsed the Sierra Club’s established policy to remain out of the thorny issue by voting 102,455 to 19,898 against a proposed change to “recognize the need to adopt lower limits on migration to the United States.”

Members participating in the club’s annual election also elected five members to the 15-member governing board -- all of whom stated their opposition to the club changing its position on immigration.


“It’s clear that Sierra Club members don’t want to get into the toxic immigration issue,” said Sierra Club President Larry Fahn. “They understand that restricting immigration is like putting a Band-Aid on the tumor. It doesn’t impact the root cause of world population growth. They want us to keep our focus on real environmental problems: clean air, clean water and protecting the planet.”

Fahn said the governing board of the 750,000-member club is now aligned 12 to 3 against any kind of immigration crackdown. Those numbers, he said, would make it impossible for immigration-control advocates to wrest control of the club, as was attempted last year, for at least two more annual elections.

This year’s election, with ballots cast by mail and the Internet, was the third time in less than a decade that the Sierra Club has publicly wrestled with the issue of restricting immigration.

Members of the club, one of the nation’s most influential environmental groups, voted to remain neutral on the issue in 1998, following a campaign that featured accusations of immigrant bashing and countercharges of political cowardice against members who advocated neutrality.

The same contentious debate surfaced with last year’s attempt to take over the board and this year’s ballot measure calling for a policy shift.

Despite the repeated rejections, some Sierra Club members continue to call for strict curbs on newcomers, contending that U.S. population growth, fueled by immigration, is taking a destructive toll on the nation’s natural resources.


“We had no illusion that we were going to win this election,” said Dick Schneider, a leader of club members pushing for U.S. population stabilization. He said the club’s hierarchy outspent his group 20 to 1, and that some members sympathetic to his cause have quit the club out of frustration.

Most others, he said, are staying to push their case in future years.

“Our position is that, ultimately, the Sierra Club is going to have to acknowledge this problem,” Schneider said. “Overpopulation driven by unsustainable levels of immigration is bringing on more traffic congestion, escalating energy prices, overcrowding of our beaches, parks and recreational areas and increasing demands on our limited water supply. Unless the Sierra Club addresses this problem, we will be increasingly marginalized in carrying out our mission to protect the natural environment.”