NumbersUSA Founder Roy Beck Shares How Immigration Impacts the Environment


Roy Beck, founder and President of leading immigration reduction advocacy organization NumbersUSA, has long been aware of the link between immigration and the environment. In fact, his concern for the impact of the 1990 immigration act on the environment played a major role in the group’s founding. 

In an interview, Beck recounted his thoughts at the time as a journalist who had just covered the passage of the act. “I covered that law and everything I’d done on environment and on economic justice issues, and I thought, ‘Man, quadrupling immigration from what it was before 1965, this is really undercutting all the efforts on the environment and economic justice.’” 

Beck learned the importance of environmental sustainability at a young age. His father, who drove dairy trucks and was a member of the Teamsters union, was also a strong believer in supporting the environment. So much so, that he started the recycling process back in the 1950s in the small Ozarks town where Beck was raised. As a result, the town’s recycling center is named the Warren Beck Memorial Recycling Center.

Beck was in college during the latter part of the Civil Rights movement which he felt strongly in support of and participated in. At the same time, the environmental movement, took center stage nationwide, enticing Roy to become one of the first environmental beat newspaper journalists in the country.

As a reporter, Beck covered mainly environmental issues, along with some inner-urban economic stories. While he would eventually go on to cover major stories of all types across the country and even internationally, his support for environmental issues never wavered. At the same time, coming from a small town in the Ozarks, and with his father’s background as a union laborer, he always had a strong sense of economic justice. 

As his journalism career progressed into covering politics as a reporter based in Washington D.C., he was able to see firsthand the impact legislative activity had on the economy and the prospects for workers to earn a living.

Roy Beck’s most recent book, Back of the Hiring Line, 200 Years of Immigration Surges, Employer Bias, and the Depression of Black Wealth, demonstrates how policies supporting high levels of immigration have proved deleterious for a major segment of the American workforce.

On the issue of environmental sustainability, a recent article written by Beck for focused on the damage high levels of immigration can do to the environment. In the article, Beck points out that, from 2002 to 2017, America lost 17,800 square miles of land including both agricultural and natural habitats. Additionally, around 1,200 square miles of land in rural areas is converted to housing, infrastructure and recreational uses, with this sprawl looking likely to continue, according to Beck, as policymakers refuse to address the primary cause – population growth mainly caused by immigration policies at the federal level. 

When the immigration act of 1990 passed, with its boost to immigration numbers, Beck recalled that, as far as he could tell, nobody else was doing anything about the impact of the act on American workers or the environment. This feeling, along with the reports of two major commissions around that time, one congressional, one supported by presidential authority, was the impetus for the founding of NumbersUSA. Both commissions concluded that reducing immigration numbers towards their historical average was in the best interest of the United States and its authorized residents. 

“It was mid-career,” Beck remembers, “I was 42 years old. I didn’t think I’d ever leave newspapers, but I just had this feeling that I needed to be an advocate, but a different kind of advocate.” While he still wanted to be journalistic, Beck now wanted to work in a much more advocacy kind of style. So, he took a big pay cut to advocate for economic justice for American workers and environment sustainability as the leader of NumbersUSA.

In the years since Beck founded NumbersUSA, it has grown to become the largest grassroots organization focused on immigration reduction in the U.S., with more than eight million participants including conservatives, liberals and moderates.


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