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May 01, 2013

Building Movement Solidarity -- We Stand with Migrants

By Flavia de la Fuente, Joseph Manning & Quentin James

This nation has witnessed the immense energy and momentum that builds when young people rally around each other in the pursuit of justice and social progress. We saw it 50 years ago, when a Southern Baptist preacher wrote a "Letter from Birmingham Jail," calling on the consciences of leaders who were not yet on the front lines fighting for civil rights. We saw it 24 years ago in Tiananmen Square, when a lone 19-year-old activist put his life on the line to stop an advancing phalanx of tanks in a show of nonviolent action. And we've seen it over the past five years with a group of "DREAMers" who have effectively changed the conversation about our nation's values with regard to our immigrants.

As the youth arm of the nation's largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, the Sierra Student Coalition applauds the Sierra Club Board of Directors' decision to "offer our organization's strong support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants." The Sierra Student Coalition recently joined the Generational Alliance, a coalition of 22 national organizations representing youth of color, women, LGBTQ-identified individuals, and low-income communities. Being a part of this coalition sends a strong message that we stand side-by-side with millennials who are facing discrimination and adversity, and it feels good to know that we have each others' backs.

Perhaps nowhere is the need to stand together clearer than in Texas, where some of the most toxic facilities in the country pour poison into the air, people live in some of the nation's most polluted cities, and better environmental protection would keep families and workers -- citizens and immigrants alike -- safer and healthier. By empowering the voices of immigrants, we can amplify the message of those fighting for clean air, clean water, and protection of our wild places.

Houston is the most ethnically diverse major metropolitan region in the country, with immigrant communities hailing not only from Latin America but also from Asia and Africa. The Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is home to immigrant communities from as far away as Nepal. And yet Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth are among the most polluted cities in the country, where residents are asked to stay inside when suffocating smog threatens to send children and the elderly to the emergency room. How many thousands of immigrant parents want to fight for clean air for their kids?

For years, Sierra Club members and supporters have been fighting the construction of the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, not only for humanitarian reasons, but also on environmental grounds: Nature knows no borders. Land was condemned and confiscated from Texas cities and landowners to make way for border wall construction. In many cases, these new walls block access to the Rio Grande River for U.S. residents and for wildlife. The wall has had devastating consequences for communities all along the border.

In Nogales, in the Mexican state of Sonora, the wall contributed to severe flooding that buried downtown homes and businesses under six feet of water, drowning two people and inflicting millions of dollars in damage. And of course, the border wall's greatest human toll is on the thousands of migrants who have lost their lives as the wall funnels them deeper and deeper into harsh and remote terrain.

Several species of wildlife have been spotted and photographed stranded by the border wall, suggesting that many threatened and endangered species are suffering the same fate.  What’s more, 37 federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, and Religious Freedom Restoration Act, have been waived by the Department of Homeland Security using an unjust waiver authority.  It is the largest waiver of federal law in U.S. history, and the Sierra Club is working to repeal it.

When we fight together in Texas against big polluters, and when we rally in Washington, D.C., to support a just path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, young people in the Sierra Student Coalition proudly stand by our peers to make this nation more equitable and sustainable for all. We are humbly inspired by the real risks so many dreamers have taken to get our nation to this point -- this is the legacy of young people throughout history. Today, we move forward in solidarity.


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