Jeremy Beck's picture


  by  Jeremy Beck

Over two million people, for each of the last two years, have either been released into the U.S., avoided detection, or overstayed a visa. Most are economic migrants who plan to stay for a while. That doesn't count the more than one million who receive green cards every year.

Four million people reside in the city of Los Angeles. LA County is 10 million large.

Does adding a city of Los Angeles every two years (illegal immigration alone), and an LA County every 39 months (legal + illegal) have an impact on open space and natural resources? You don't have to be an environmental scientist to know that it does.

"We have to be thinking about how many people we can sustain," says Professor Philip A. Cafaro. "We need to treat immigrants and would-be immigrants with respect," he says, "but at the same time we have to set pretty strict limits to how many people can come."

An ethical immigration policy would consider everyone who is impacted by those policies, according to the philosophy professor.

By definition, economic migrants have less affluence than the average American, and therefore less of an impact when it comes to consumption. Also by definition, economic migrants are pursuing better economic conditions. Few come to America to not consume like Americans. When it comes to impact on the land, water, and air that sustain us, the number of feet matter as much as, or more than, the size of each individual footprint.

The average American requires one-third of an acre of urbanized land, and roughly fifteen football fields of ecological space to support the American lifestyle. If the recent Los-Angeles-sized group of migrants soon reach anything close to average American consumption levels, it will take 60 million football-fields worth of nature to support the last two years of illegal immigration alone.

America is a big place, but the impact is not distributed equally around the country. The greatest impacts occur in the areas where people are. We should all be aware by now of cities from the Southwest to the Northeast that are stretched beyond their limits to provide for the influx of "just" thousands of people.

Of course adding a Los Angeles every two years has a profound impact on housing, schools, traffic, food security, water security, resilience, biodiversity, and emissions. The natural world doesn't care if people arrive illegally or legally — it's the numbers that matter. And it's the numbers that the U.S. government has an obligation to manage. Creating quasi-legal programs to admit more people under a different category on a spreadsheet does absolutely nothing to change the math or the real-world impact.

JEREMY BECK is a V.P., Deputy Director for NumbersUSA

Updated: Mon, May 15th 2023 @ 12:57pm EDT

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