On November 24, 2020, the Center for Immigration Studies filed a case on behalf of the Massachusetts Coalition for Immigration Reform (MCIR) and Kevin Lynn against U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This claim challenged DHS and its component agency USCIS for promulgating National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) procedures in 2014 that failed to consider any aspect of USCIS’ entire mission; that is, the regulation of the conditions by which foreign nationals enter and remain in the United States.
Since it was signed into law in 1970 by President Richard Nixon, NEPA has required every agency considering an action that will affect the environment to analyze and publicize those effects before actually implementing the action. NEPA’s purpose is “to help public officials make decisions that are based on understanding of environmental consequences, and take actions that protect, restore, and enhance the environment.” NEPA is also intended to give ordinary members of the public the opportunity to voice their opinions on government actions that will affect their local communities. No exception applies to immigration-related actions, yet DHS and USCIS carry on as if immigration and naturalization programs are exempt from this law. NEPA also established the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) within the Executive Office of the President to ensure that all federal agencies meet their obligations under NEPA.
In 1978, the CEQ first mandated that every agency establish NEPA procedures providing a framework for following the statutory requirements of environmental analysis under NEPA. At that time, the functions of the current USCIS were housed in the Department of Justice, specifically within the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). When the Department of Justice’s NEPA procedures were first promulgated, they ignored the entire environmental impact of the INS’ regulation of the entrance and settlement of foreign nationals into the United States. When the Homeland Security Act of 2002 placed most of the functions of the INS into DHS, the new department eventually promulgated new NEPA procedures. During the creation of the new NEPA procedures, DHS failed to consider whether any of USCIS’ programs had the potential to impact the environment in the United States.
Yet the environmental impacts USCIS’s programs and policies are undeniable. Between 1990 and 2010, the U.S. population grew by over 61 million people due to expansive legal immigration and amnesty policies. The U.S. total population is expected to grow to almost 417 million by 2060 — 108 million more than in 2010. Immigration will account for about 80 percent of this population growth. Population growth exacerbates every single area of concern addressed by the environmental movement, such as damage to air quality, increased urban sprawl, water pollution, exacerbated traffic congestion, loss of green space, wildlife habitat, forests and farmland, increased carbon emissions, and the depletion of non-renewable resources.
DHS and USCIS’ complete failure to consider even the possibility that its programs could cause any of these effects is unlawful under NEPA. CIS therefore challenged this failure as arbitrary and capricious. At the time of filing, DHS had last substantially revised its NEPA procedures in 2014. In July 2020, CEQ updated its regulations, and required every agency to promulgate new NEPA procedures. The regulations went into effect in September 2020, and gave federal agencies one year to update their procedures.
- Administrative Record
The complaint brought two claims against USCIS and DHS. Count I challenged DHS’s 2014 NEPA procedures for failing to consider the impacts of USCIS’ immigration and naturalization policies and procedures. DHS allows for the promulgation of separate NEPA procedures for its component agencies such as USCIS, but, arbitrarily and capriciously did not consider whether USCIS’ entire mandate has the potential to impact the environment. Given the requirement from the CEQ at the time of filing that DHS update its NEPA regulations, Count I requested that the expected update include a consideration of its immigration programs. Count II alleged that the promulgation of 80 specific ongoing actions, all of which had the potential to increase the population of the United States, without any NEPA analysis, was arbitrary and capricious and amounted to a violation of NEPA.
Plaintiff Massachusetts Coalition for Immigration Reform (MCIR) is a nonpartisan, membership-based public interest group. The members of MCIR are citizens united by their belief that record levels of mass immigration into the United States in recent years, both legal and illegal, have distinctly negative effects on our environment and quality of life, as well as on taxpayers and the wages of working Americans. MCIR therefore takes a strong interest in seeing implementation of NEPA live up to the statute’s mandate that the federal government engage in environmentally informed decision-making.
Plaintiff Kevin Lynn is the executive director at Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR), which exists to protect American workers from unemployment and wage suppression caused by unfair labor and trade practices. He is a graduate of Kemper Military College, a former Second Lieutenant in the U.S. army’s military intelligence, and professionally has worked at Ernst and Young, technology startups, and a tax consulting firm. He now resides in Lancaster County, Pa., and was born in Bucks County, Pa. He is an ardent environmentalist and a member of a number of environmental organizations, such as Respect Farmland and Lancaster Against Pipelines.