04/25/2013 01:47 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2013

A Path to the Future

Getty Images

My coauthor for today's post is Sierra Club President Allison Chin. 

In 1849, an 11-year-old boy moved with his family to the
United States. More than four decades later, that boy co-founded the Sierra
Club and served as its president for the next 22 years. Like many great
Americans, John Muir was an immigrant. It is only because he was able to take
advantage of the opportunities in his adopted country that the Sierra Club
exists at all.

Today, however, the American immigration system is broken.
It forces approximately 11 million people to live outside the prevailing
currents of our society. Many of them work in the fields, mop floors, care for
other people's children, and take low-wage jobs to support their families. Many work in
jobs that expose them to dangerous conditions, chemicals and pesticides, and
many more live in areas with disproportionate levels of toxic air and water

The 20 million Americans with family members whose legal
status is in limbo share the Sierra Club's concerns about climate and the
environment. For example, our own polls indicate that Latinos support
environmental and conservation efforts with even greater intensity than the
average American: 90 percent of Latino voters favor clean energy over fossil
fuels. A California study found that 74 percent of Asian-Americans, the
fastest growing group in America, accept climate science. Yet, significant
numbers of these stakeholders and change agents have been denied their civil
rights in the public arena.

The Sierra Club is committed
to partnering with all
who share our urgent concerns about advancing
our democracy and fighting the climate crisis. It is time for us to work

That is why the Sierra Club Board of Directors has voted to
offer our organization's strong support for a pathway to citizenship for
undocumented immigrants. Such a pathway should be free of unreasonable barriers
and should facilitate keeping families together and uniting those that have
been split apart whenever possible.

For the Sierra Club and the environmental movement to
protect our wild America, defend clean air and water, and win the fight against
climate disruption, we must ensure that the people who are the most
disenfranchised and the most affected by pollution have the voice to fight
polluters and advocate for climate solutions without fear.

This isn't the first time that the Sierra Club has taken a
stand on a critical issue. In 1993, the Club opposed the North American Free
Trade Agreement, a controversial position, but one that has proven to be the
right choice. We did not think it would be good for workers or the environment,
and it hasn't been. In fact, NAFTA has been a major driver of undocumented
immigration into the U.S. from Mexico and Central America.

More recently, the Club has challenged the Real ID Act,
which allows the Department of Homeland Security to waive 36 federal laws --
including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Wilderness
Act. That ill-conceived suspension of bedrock environmental laws has been used
to construct border walls in the Southwest with little regard to their effect
on wildlife and habitats nor their cost in human lives. Dan Millis, our Sierra
Club Borderlands campaign
organizer, was famously given a littering ticket by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service for leaving life-saving bottles of water on federally protected land in
the Sonoran desert.

We cannot solve either the climate crisis or our broken immigration system by acting out of fear or by supporting
exclusion. One of our nation's greatest strengths is the contribution that
generations of immigrants have made to our national character. If we are
serious about solving the climate crisis and protecting our democracy, then we
need to work with the hardworking men and women who want to play by the rules
and play a part in building a healthy, safe, and prosperous future for our