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PBS's Bonnie Erbe Accepts Award from Anti-Immigrant Group CIS

Bonnie Erbe, the longtime host of the Public Broadcasting Service's "To The Contrary" program, has long been a proponent of dubious claims that immigration depletes natural resources and worsens global warming, as well as an apologist for the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). So it was not really a surprise when CIS awarded Erbe its annual journalism prize this year for her "reporting on immigration's effects on health care, poverty, and natural resources, as well as on birth tourism."

Erbe, who was given the award Tuesday at a gathering at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., told the audience in her acceptance speech that she "no longer" considers herself a progressive, "because I don’t believe the progressives really support the environment."

Erbe's speech explicitly acknowledged the coordination of anti-immigrant activism among various organizations associated with CIS, including the "greenwashing" group Progressives For Immigration Reform (PFIR), and Numbers USA, which along with CIS and another nativist outfit, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, are all part of a network devoted to opposing immigration.

Erbe acknowledged that she works closely with CIS and Numbers USA, and openly accepts their frequently dubious studies as accurate: "We work with them on many projects," she said, praising them for their growing influence, "shown by the growth of their website and email list they run a very necessary organization with now more than 2 million, I believe."


She explained her thinking on immigration, saying she doesn’t have a problem with immigrants as people, but as a mass phenomenon: "Anyway, immigrants are fabulous. Immigrants make the best Americans. They work the hardest for the least amount of money. They contribute so much to this country," she said. "But in the journalistic community, if you dare raise any negative impact of mass immigration that we have now, both legal and illegal, you are shunted aside as some kind of strange person who has – you know, has a very strange approach to reporting."

Erbe said she became concerned about immigration mostly as an environmental issue, and came to part ways with liberals over the issue of overpopulation, "because they support open-border immigration, pretty much."

"I certainly came of age as a progressive, but I am no longer a progressive because I don’t believe the progressives really support the environment, and to me, that’s the most important issue. If we don’t deal with climate change and human impact on the planet, there’s not going to be a planet in 50 years, it’s my personal belief," she said. "And you can’t – you say that in journalistic or political circles, and people look at you cross-eyed. And some – and we get objections from viewers sometimes. We also get great, you know, emails saying, thank you for doing this; I have – I hear this nowhere else on TV. But we also get people who say – you know, call me bad names and say that our – that begins with R – and call us out for just reporting what are the facts."

Those facts, as Erbe sees it:

We’re not dealing with the fact that we are the major contributors to greenhouse gases and what we do – and this is our cultural disadvantage, but when we do take immigrants from developing nations who have very small carbon footprints, we turn them into the rest of us, who have huge carbon footprints, and turn them into greater contributors to global warming.

And we need to do something somewhere. We’re not doing anything on any of the fronts. Immigration is just one of the fronts where we need to start controlling thing – things, but again, is anybody going to listen? Does anybody care? No.

This is not particularly new for Erbe. In the past, she has both praised CIS and its "studies", and has ardently promoted the view (also long promoted by FAIR and CIS's founder, John Tanton) that immigration causes environmental degradation in the United States. Indeed, much of Tanton's work has entailed attempts to transform immigration into an environmental issue.

And Erbe noted at the end of her speech that she was donating the proceeds from her award to PFIR, whose main purpose as a "greenwashing" outfit is to argue against immigration on environmental grounds. Erbe appears to have bought into their claims whole.

The claim, for instance, that immigrants worsen carbon emissions, as ThinkProgress has explained, is based almost entirely on CIS studies that employ "deeply flawed methodology":

The report claims that a person’s CO2 emissions is directly related to his or her personal income — so a person making $110,000 per year will emit 10 percent more carbon than a person who earns $100,000 per year under the report’s methodology. Thus, because the report claims that each Mexican immigrant earns 53.2 percent of the average U.S. resident, it claims that these immigrants must also produce 53.2 percent of the carbon emissions.

But this is simply absurd. If such a relationship actually did exist, that would mean that Mitt Romney, who earned $21.6 million in 2010 — or more than 600 times the average annual income according to the CIS report — also must have produced 600 times the CO2 emissions. That’s enough of a carbon footprint to fuel over 2,200 vehicles or power more than 1,400 homes for an entire year. Not even John McCain owns that many houses.

Think Progress also notes that data actually demonstrates that immigrants produce lower carbon emissions than their native-born citizen counterparts. "And as CAP Senior Fellow Andrew Light told ThinkProgress, even if we could suddenly remove the entire carbon impact created by immigrants, it would only decrease the U.S.’s carbon emissions by 7.32 percent in a good year. Clearly, immigrants are not to blame for the U.S.’s large climate footprint."

Of course, that has not stopped CIS and its nativist cohorts from pointing the finger of blame, nor has it stopped Erbe from blithely aiding in that process. These views were adroitly satirized by Stephen Colbert a couple of years ago.

"I say, why stop with global warming?" he asked in a segment on the CIS claims. "There are so many problems on which conservatives and liberals can come together to blame immigrants. … So, liberals, conservatives, let's make sure America continues to be a country people strive to come to, by kicking out the people who came here."

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